How Small Can Computers Get? Computing In A Molecule
- URL to an interesting articles in Science Daily News
At some point, computers will be everywhere. I wonder what the world will
be like. Will it be some sort of 1984ish world where every movement and
gesture is recorded and analyzed, or a paradise, or will this ubiquitous computing
transcend us into something bigger and greater?
First few paragraphs
"ScienceDaily (Dec. 30, 2008) — Over the last 60 years, ever-smaller
generations of transistors have driven exponential growth in computing power. Could
molecules, each turned into miniscule computer components, trigger even
greater growth in computing over the next 60?
Atomic-scale computing, in which computer processes are carried out in a
single molecule or using a surface atomic-scale circuit, holds vast promise for
the microelectronics industry. It allows computers to continue to increase in
processing power through the development of components in the nano- and pico
scale. In theory, atomic-scale computing could put computers more powerful
than today’s supercomputers in everyone’s pocket.
“Atomic-scale computing researchers today are in much the same position as
transistor inventors were before 1947. No one knows where this will lead,” says
Christian Joachim of the French National Scientific Research Centre’s (CNRS)
Centre for Material Elaboration & Structural Studies (CEMES) in Toulouse,
Joachim, the head of the CEMES Nanoscience and Picotechnology Group (GNS), is
currently coordinating a team of researchers from 15 academic and industrial
research institutes in Europe whose groundbreaking work on developing a
molecular replacement for transistors has brought the vision of atomic-scale
computing a step closer to reality. Their efforts, a continuation of work that
began in the 1990s, are today being funded by the European Union in the
In a conventional microprocessor – the “motor” of a modern computer –
transistors are the essential building blocks of digital circuits, creating logic
gates that process true or false signals. A few transistors are needed to
create a single logic gate and modern microprocessors contain billions of them,
each measuring around 100 nanometres.
Transistors have continued to shrink in size since Intel co-founder Gordon E.
Moore famously predicted in 1965 that the number that can be placed on a
processor would double roughly every two years. But there will inevitably come a
time when the laws of quantum physics prevent any further shrinkage using
conventional methods. That is where atomic-scale computing comes into play with
a fundamentally different approach to the problem.
“Nanotechnology is about taking something and shrinking it to its smallest
possible scale. It’s a top-down approach,” Joachim says. He and the
Pico-Inside team are turning that upside down, starting from the atom, the molecule,
and exploring if such a tiny bit of matter can be a logic gate, memory source,
or more. “It is a bottom-up or, as we call it, 'bottom-bottom' approach
because we do not want to reach the material scale,” he explains.
Joachim’s team has focused on taking one individual molecule and building up
computer components, with the ultimate goal of hosting a logic gate in a
How many atoms to build a computer?
“The question we have asked ourselves is how many atoms does it take to build
a computer?” Joachim says. “That is something we cannot answer at present,
but we are getting a better idea about it.”
The team has managed to design a simple logic gate with 30 atoms that perform
the same task as 14 transistors, while also exploring the architecture,
technology and chemistry needed to achieve computing inside a single molecule
and to interconnect molecules.
They are focusing on two architectures: one that mimics the classical design
of a logic gate but in atomic form, including nodes, loops, meshes etc., and
another, more complex, process that relies on changes to the molecule’s conf
ormation to carry out the logic gate inputs and quantum mechanics to perform
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