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Toward Picotechnology P1656 June 2021

Author: Madeeha Uppal (Send us feedback.)

Scientists are beginning to work at the edges of nanotechnology and beyond.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

Advances in the manipulation of structures at the atomic scale could give rise to technologies on the subnanometer scale, nearing the picometer scale. Such technologies could open the door to miniaturized and high-performance devices that employ quantum phenomena. A team comprising scientists from the University of Texas at Austin (Austin, Texas), National Cheng Kung University (Tainan, Taiwan), and other institutions recently reported the fabrication of the world's smallest memristor, which has a cross-sectional area of just 1 square nanometer. In tests, the memristor demonstrated a storage capacity of 25 terabits per square centimeter—roughly 100 times greater memory density per layer than that of commercial flash-memory devices. Memristors make use of atomic defects to store information and are ideal candidates for ultradense data storage. Smaller memory-storage devices can facilitate extremely compact and energy-efficient electrical devices.

Molecular-computing research is another avenue that could enable highly miniaturized computing. Single molecules have the potential to produce electronic switches that are faster and more energy-efficient than are the electronic switches that traditional silicon-based transistors produce. Researchers from Columbia University (New York, New York) and the University of Glasgow (Glasgow, Scotland) have developed a high-performance molecular switch that "displays an on/off current ratio of greater than 10,000—the largest relative change in current for any single-molecule circuit." The molecular switch measures 6 nanometers long and exhibits electrical properties nearing those of commercial transistors.

Extensive research is ongoing in the field of nanotechnology, and the development of new real-time characterization tools that use simple, easily accessible equipment could increase the speed and reliability of analysis techniques. To this end, a team led by the University of Houston (Houston, Texas) has developed a new label‑free imaging method that can measure the size and dynamic behavior of nanoparticles. Using a setup similar to that of a traditional optical microscope, the new method exploits the nanoapertures in gold‑nanodisc-coated glass slides to monitor the optical properties of objects with nanoscale resolution. The team showed that this method can measure sizes down to 25 nanometers in diameter, distinguish individual nanoparticles within clusters, and monitor the nanoparticles' motion with millisecond precision.