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We're your hosts. San Francisco Robotics Society of America Media my stir Cliff Thompson and me. K 9, the Wonder Dog!
Here's the story for Friday, November 9, 2001.
This just in from the San Francisco Chronicle.
10 million transistors no bigger than a pinhead. Molecule-size devices rival silicon chips.
Story by Carl T Hall, Chronicle Science Writer.
Computer scientists revealed a new way of making exceptionally small transistors yesterday in what some described as a key step toward a post- silicon future of electronics on the molecular scale.
A team of chemists and physicists at Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs in New Jersey electrified the computer-design world with a report describing "nanotransistors" so tiny that 10 million of them could be crammed onto the head of a pin.
Despite their size, the performance of the molecule-size devices rivaled that of much bigger silicon-based transistors. The ultimate goal is to find a way of configuring the tiny devices into a working computer, which now seems closer than ever, though still many years off.
"It's a first step, but a lot of other steps have to follow," said Hendrik Schon, a Bell Labs physicist and co-author of yesterday's report. The report appeared yesterday in Science Express, an online offshoot of the journal Science.
Two other reports, appearing today in Science, signal some related advances in a growing push to construct miniaturized "nanocomputers."
A group of researchers at Delft University in the Netherlands reported a new way to construct logic circuits from thin wirelike carbon molecules known as "nanotubes." And a team at Harvard University claimed to have found a "predictable and reproducible benchtop assembly" method, sufficient to construct "all critical logic gates and basic computation."
Scientific rivals of the Bell Labs group called the announcement a remarkable but puzzling achievement, noting that theoretical calculations suggested it would not be possible.
"They don't have a clue how or why this works, and I don't have a clue how or why it works either," said Stan Williams, director of a quantum-science research program at Hewlett-Packard Co. in Palo Alto.
Thomas Theis, director of physical sciences research for IBM in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., said in a statement that the Bell Labs researchers had left many unanswered questions about the "underlying science."
"It appears to be a very interesting result, but nobody, including the authors of the paper, seems to fully understand what is going on here," Theis said.
A transistor is a switch used to manipulate streams of electronically encoded data. Computer circuits consist of many hundreds of thousands of transistors, along with other components and connecting wires, all etched onto wafers of silicon.
Current technology can reduce their size only so far until certain physical limits are met. The Bell Labs researchers said their transistor demonstrates the feasibility of what's known as "single-molecule switching," in which an individual molecule functions as the working element.
They made the device using a chemical assembly of gold electrodes and a semiconductor material known as organic thiol, which was chosen because its molecules tend to stick tightly to gold.
In essence, bits of gold were laid into notches cut into silicon wafers, which were then dipped into a dilute solution of thiol molecules. Key electronic properties were controlled largely by varying the degree of dilution.
The wafers were then allowed to dry. This left behind a film of the thiol semiconductor, with each thiol molecule positioning itself on the gold without need for any sophisticated guidance tools. Another layer of gold was then added to complete the package.
Tests showed the device functioned even better than hoped when a current was introduced. Two of the devices were built into a standard circuit module known as a "voltage inverter," used to change a "O" to a "1" or back in the elemental language of computer circuits.
Researchers said the results point to a radically new "bottom-up" self- assembly method for cranking out computer switches and circuits from beakers of chemical soup -- or maybe from huge vats of soup if the approach proves out on an industrial scale.
Intelligent devices built in such a way hold the potential of being far cheaper, and at the same time far more powerful, than anything currently possible using silicon-based technology.
Besides shrinking the size and reducing the expense of computer parts, the "wetware" self-assembly approach also would allow computer architects to lay down circuits on flexible plastic film or virtually any other substrate besides silicon. That could bring a new era of consumer electronic goodies such as computer-woven clothing and roll-up screens for laptop devices.
Instead of computer paper as we know it now, in this future "nanoworld" the computer might essentially be the paper.
At Hewlett-Packard, which is pursuing a much different approach known as "defect tolerant" self-assembly, Williams called the new announcement "a big scientific surprise."
"It's going to convince more people of something we've been contending for several years -- that molecular electronics is real," he said.
But he added that the big question remains how to mold the individual transistors and other components into fully functional integrated circuits.
I have reached the end of the story and have no more news to report.
And that's the way it was, this Ninth Day of November, 2001.
Back to you Cliff.