Unlike previous works, the single-atom transistor developed by a team at the KIT led by Professor Thomas Schimmel operates in a solid electrolyte. This quantum electronic device switches an electric current at room temperature through the controlled displacement of a single atom.
With this transistor, the researchers have realized a new technological approach: It consists exclusively of metal and doesn't use a semiconductor. As a result, the voltages are extremely low and therefore the power consumption is extremely low. Until now, this single-atom transistor of this team at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) depended on a liquid electrolyte.
Now for the first time Professor Thomas Schimmel and his team at the Institute of Applied Physics (APH) have manufactured such a transistor that operates in a solid electrolyte: The gel electrolyte produced by jellifying an aqueous silver electrolyte with pyrogenic silica combines the advantages of a solid-state material with the electrochemical properties of a fluid, thus improving both the safety and handling of the single-atom transistor.
This single-atom transistor could make a significant contribution to the energy efficiency of computer technology in the future: “This quantum electronic element is able to switch at energies 10,000 times lower than those of the traditional silicon technologies,” explains Professor Schimmel, who is regarded as a pioneer in single-atom electronics.
In developed countries, information technology is currently accountable for more than ten percent of electricity consumption. The central element of digital data processing is the transistor - whether in data centers, PCs, smartphones or in embedded systems for many applications from washing machines to airplanes. There are already several billion transistors on a standard low-cost USB memory stick.
The single-atom transistor created by the Schimmel and his team operates at room temperature and consumes extremely little energy, opening up completely new perspectives for computer technology. The scientists unveiled their transistor in the scientific journal Advanced Materials.
Fangqing Xie, Andreas Peukert, Thorsten Bender, Christian Obermair, Florian Wertz, Philipp Schmieder, and Thomas Schimmel: Quasi-Solid-State Single-Atom Transistors. Advanced Materials. Adv. Mater. 2018, 30, 1801225. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201801225