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Transport Measured Through a Single Atom in a Transistor

Photonics.com
Nov 2006
DELFT, Netherlands, Nov. 27, 2006 -- Transport has been successfully measured through a single atom in a transistor, giving researchers new insights into the behavior of so-called dopant atoms in silicon, one of the stumbling blocks impeding the further miniaturization of electronics.

Researchers from Delft University of Technology and the FOM Foundation (Fundamental Research on Matter) were able to measure and manipulate a single dopant atom in a realistic semiconducting environment. They published their findings recently in the journal Physical Review Letters.
AtomicTransistor.jpg
An electronmicroscopic image of the FinFET industrial transistor used for the Delft research. (Image: TU Delft)
The electronics industry uses a semiconducting material, primarily silicon, that contains dopant atoms to give the silicon the desired electronic characteristics. Through miniaturization, the number of dopant atoms per transistor has become extremely small (only a few dozen), making the position and effect of each individual atom a huge factor in how the entire transistor works. This means that two transistor chips, manufactured identically, can differ from each other and behave differently. This is an alarming situation for the electronics industry, the researchers said, which faces increasing pressure to make products increasingly smaller while improving performance.

Researchers Hermann Sellier, Gabri Lansbergen, Jaap Caro and Sven Rogge of the Kavli Institute of Nanoscience Delft and the FOM Foundation successfully measured a single dopant atom in a semiconducting environment. The scientists, who work in the Photronic Devices research group, transported a charge through one atom and measured and manipulated the quantum mechanical behavior of a single dopant atom, successfully placing one or two electrons in a particular shell of the atom.

The Delft researchers used an advanced industrial transistor (a MOSFET) called FinFET, made as a prototype by IMEC, a research center in Leuven, Belgium. In this transistor, which consists of approximately 35-nm-wide silicon nanowires, the electrical current flows through a single dopant atom (in this case, arsenic). The nanowire is connected to a "gate"; by applying a voltage to the gate, the researchers enable the electrons to flow through the arsenic atom (from the "source" to the "drain"). By detailed measurements of the electrical current's behavior, researchers can observe the effects.

This research however does immediately solve the problems of miniaturization, but it does provide the industry with greater insights into the (quantum mechanical) behavior of transitions on the nanolevel, the scientists said.

The research conducted at the Kavli Institute not only provided new insights into the atomic physics occurring inside a solid, but it also resembles a structure needed to build the still-theoretical quantum computer based on dopant atoms in silicon, the scientists said.

For more information, visit: www.ns.tudelft.nl


GLOSSARY
dopant
The impurity added to a substance to produce desired properties in the substance.
electronics
That branch of science involved in the study and utilization of the motion, emissions and behaviors of currents of electrical energy flowing through gases, vacuums, semiconductors and conductors, not to be confused with electrics, which deals primarily with the conduction of large currents of electricity through metals.
photonics
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
transistor
An electronic device consisting of a semiconductor material, generally germanium or silicon, and used for rectification, amplification and switching. Its mode of operation utilizes transmission across the junction of the donor electrons and holes.
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