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New breakthrough for smaller electronic devices

Media release

Researchers have made a technological breakthrough, which will help unlock the next phase of creating smaller everyday electronic devices such as mobile phones and laptops.

In a paper published today in Nature Communications, Curtin University researchers have created a diode – the basic component of most modern electronic devices – out of a tiny single molecule, which will help continue the downsizing trend of electronic devices.

Diodes, which are responsible for directing electric currents in most common electronic devices, allow currents to flow in one direction while blocking currents in the opposite direction.

Lead researcher Dr Nadim Darwish, from Curtin University’s Department of Chemistry and Curtin Institute for Functional Molecules and Interfaces (CIFMI), said the physical limit of current computing power had been reached because today’s conventional technology was limited to allowing only the printing of millions of diodes on silicon chips, not thousands of billions of diodes.

“If we want to continue to offer smaller and more powerful everyday electronic devices like mobiles phones and laptops, then we have to use single molecules as the basic components of the electronic circuits in those devices,” Dr Darwish said.

“Our method utilizes a small organic molecule connected with a gold and a silicon electrode in a tiny circuit, measuring only 1 nanometer long – or about 100,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

“While we are not the first to have created single-molecule diodes, this diode is much smaller and more efficient than any previously reported. Using this technology, we can fit more than ten thousand billion diodes onto a 1 cm2 area of a silicon chip, which will help make it easier to develop even smaller everyday electronic devices in the future.”

Co-author Dr Simone Ciampi, also from Curtin University, said the team of researchers was now focused on increasing the mechanical stability of the diodes, to ensure it worked to open up a range of exciting technological possibilities for modern electronic devices.

“We have demonstrated that this molecular-scale diode can allow currents to pass in one direction 4000 times more efficiently than in the opposite direction, which is a leap towards creating single-molecule diodes of comparable efficiency to conventional diodes while also scaling down the size significantly,” Dr Ciampi said.

The paper was co-authored by researchers from the University of Barcelona and the University of New South Wales.

The full paper Single-Molecule Electrical Contacts on Silicon Electrodes under Ambient Conditions can be viewed on Nature Communications.