Scientists have developed the world’s thinnest piece of technology in a tiny device that’s as thick as two atoms stacked on top of each other. The device is meant to be used to store electronic information.
The device itself consists of two different layers, one made of boron and the other nitrogen. The two layers are arranged in a repeating hexagonal structure, and scientists explained that because the device uses a process called quantum tunneling, electrons from both layers are able to zip through the gaps that are created and thus encode digital information.
According to Livescience magazine, “this is similar to the way current state-of-the-art computing devices work. The hearts of computers contain many tiny crystals, each consisting of roughly a million atoms stacked in multiple, 100-atom layers.”
“By shuttling electrons across gaps between the layers, computers are able to switch between the two binary states (0 and 1) that form the basis of the basic unit of digital information, the bit.”
“In its natural three-dimensional state, this material (the crystal) is made up of a large number of layers placed on top of each other, with each layer rotated 180 degrees relative to its neighbors. In the lab, we were able to artificially stack the layers in a parallel configuration with no rotation, which hypothetically places atoms of the same kind in perfect overlap despite the strong repulsive force between them (resulting from their identical charges),” Moshe Ben Shalom, a physicist at Tel Aviv University and a co-author of the study that developed the new technology, said in a statement.
The process of quantum tunneling, according to Shalom, allows electrons to pass through seemingly impassable barriers. In this case with this device, the electrons passing in between the boron and nitrogen layers create a charge that allows information to be stored on the device itself.
The team said that “the two layers do not perfectly align, instead preferring to slide slightly off center from one another so that the opposite charges of each layer overlap. This causes the free electrons (negatively charged) to move toward one layer and the positively charged atomic nuclei to the other, creating a small amount of electronic polarization — one side being positively charged and the other negatively charged — inside the device.
“By adjusting how one layer relates to the other, the polarization can be reversed — changing the device from one binary state to the other, and with it the stored information.”
So what exactly is the purpose of a device that’s so thin? The scientists behind the technology claim that the faster electrons are able to move in a given plane, the faster a device will likely go. So a device with minimal density would allow electrons to move at a quicker rate, and thus create a more energy efficient device.
“We hope that miniaturization and flipping (the polarization of the device) through sliding will improve today’s electronic devices, and moreover, allow other original ways of controlling information in future devices,” lead author Maayan Vizner Stern, a doctoral candidate at Tel Aviv University, said in the statement.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at email@example.com.