Wires get cozy in smallest circuits

MCGILL (CAN) — A team of scientists has engineered one of the world’s smallest electronic circuits.

The work could have a significant effect on the speed and power of the ever-smaller integrated circuits of the future—in everything from smartphones to desktop computers, televisions, and GPS systems.

The study, published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, is the first time that researchers have studied how the wires in an electronic circuit interact with one another when packed so tightly together. The new electronic circuit is formed by two wires separated by only about 150 atoms or 15 nanometers (nm).


The authors, McGill University physics professor Guillaume Gervais and Mike Lilly of Sandia National Laboratories, were surprised to find that the effect of one wire on the other can be either positive or negative. This means that a current in one wire can produce a current in the other one that is either in the same or the opposite direction.

This discovery, based on the principles of quantum physics, suggests a need to revise understanding of how even the simplest electronic circuits behave at the nanoscale.

In addition to the effect on the speed and efficiency of future electronic circuits, this discovery could also help to solve one of the major challenges facing future computer design—managing the ever-increasing amount of heat produced by integrated circuits.

Markus Büttiker, an expert in theoretical physics, speculates that it may be possible to harness the energy lost as heat in one wire by using other wires nearby. Moreover, Buttiker believes that these findings will have an impact on the future of both fundamental and applied research in nanoelectronics.

The research was funded by The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Fonds de recherche Nature et Technologies of Quebec, the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, and the Center of Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Laboratories.

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