A team of boffins from Yale University and the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea have come up with the world's first molecular transistor.
Their cunning plan was to combine pricey gold and toxic benzene to mimic a classic silicon transistor. It turns out that a single benzene molecule attached to a couple of gold contacts behaves just like a silicon transistor and researchers were able to manipulate its different energy states with varying voltages. However, the total amount of gold ever mined in human history is sufficient to fill just two Olympic sized swimming pool. With 7 billion computing hungry souls on the planet, even a tiny amount used per single chip might put a squeeze on demand.
"It's like rolling a ball up and over a hill, where the ball represents electrical current and the height of the hill represents the molecule's different energy states," said Yale Professor Mark Reed. "We were able to adjust the height of the hill, allowing current to get through when it was low, and stopping the current when it was high." In this way, the team was able to use the molecule in much the same way as regular transistors are used.
Reed did similar research in the nineties, demonstrating that individual molecules could be trapped between electrical contacts. Now his team developed new techniques allowing them to fully grasp what happens on the molecular level.
However, although the concept would in theory allow chipmakers to come up with minuscule chips, Reed is quick to point out that the development process will take years.
"We're not about to create the next generation of integrated circuits," he said. "But after many years of work gearing up to this, we have fulfilled a decade-long quest and shown that molecules can act as transistors."