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Monday, September 03, 2007

IBM stumbles onto single molecule switching

IBM nanotech researchers have stumbled onto something that may make a significant difference to the design and manufacture of logic devices in the future.

Researchers looking at the vibration of the Naphthalocyanine molecule found that they could use two hydrogen atoms in the organic molecule to switch states, providing an 1 or a 0. They have tried with many other molecules but previously it always changes shape which makes the switch unreliable.

“One of the beauties of doing exploratory science is that by researching one area, you sometimes stumble upon other areas of major significance,” said Gerhard Meyer, senior researcher in the nanoscale science group at the IBM Zurich lab. “Although the discovery of this breakthrough was accidental, it may prove to be significant for building the computers of the future.”

In the paper titled “Current-Induced Hydrogen Tautomerization and Conductance Switching of Naphthalocyanine Molecules,” in the US journal Science, IBM researchers describe the switching, and are saying that these molecular switches could one day lead to computer chips with speeds as fast as today's fastest supercomputers, but much smaller in size; with some speculating even building computer chips so small they could be the size of a speck of dust or fit on the tip of a needle.

The next step is to build a series of these molecules into a circuit, then figure out how to network those together into a molecular chip.

However, the trick is to propagate the state through multiple molecules to build logic gates where one molecule influences another, and that is difficult. I would also be surprised if this could be done at the kinds of speeds researchers are talking about and that the industry needs. Plus, this is an organic molecule and sensitive to heat, so there are many environmental issues to be tackled before we are anywhere near building computers out of single molecules of Naphthalocyanine.

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