atom in colorEven a few random atoms out of place can actually affect transistor performance in nanocircuitry. Devices can even end up where the switches fail on the transistors, because of negative threshold voltages caused by the metal atoms perfect lattice becoming disarranged.  Researchers working with nanowires, carbon nanotubes, and other nanostructures in the past decade have struggled to create all but the most elementary circuits. But now a group of scientists led by University of Alberta physicist Robert Wolkow, have created an atomic error editing technique that promises to free up the potent innate properties in the atomic scale.

The research team has designed an error correction procedure for disarranged atoms that had been preventing new revolutionary circuitry designs that could enable faster, greener, smaller electronic circuitry from working in computers, mobile phones and a plethora of other electronics.  While the accuracy of atomic silicon printing errors has improved greatly for silicon chips that are used in today’s circuitry, out of place atoms still occur at the rate of 1%.

Team lead Wolkow describing what this new procedure does in the academic paper “Atomic Whiteout,” appearing in the scientific journal ACS Nano, to the analogy of using white-out to correct spelling errors, but with no messy traces left behind.  The team essentially invented a dependable editing procedure replacing one or more hydrogen atoms to perfectly erase atomic misprints. To do this they used an atomically sharp probe (details at end of article) to carefully pick up a single hydrogen atom and place it back into alignment.  Previously this necessary precision was only possible with simple materials that were kept at very cold temperatures, which was a barrier to using nanocircuitry in computers and personal digital devices. Wolkow and his team have discovered materials that when combined with their precision atom editor allows stability at room temperature, a breakthrough that scientists have worked toward for decades to overcome.

We contacted the University of Alberta team to get more details about the atomically sharp probe and they kindly responded with the following details:  “When we say atomically sharp probe, we mean that the apex of the tip is as sharp as an atom. To look at something small, you have to have something on the order of the size of that small thing. We use the field ion microscope to pre-examine our tips as it allows us to “see” the atoms on the apex, as well as sharpen it using a gas etching process to have that single atom character. “