In news that is hard to wrap your mind around, physicists at the University of New South Wales in Australia have successfully created a transistor made of a single atom. Researchers were able to position an atom of phosphorus-31 exactly where they needed it in the silicon array, confirm electrode contact, and change the quantum position of the atom, all necessary to be able to use this technology in future quantum computing endeavors.
This is very exciting news for a couple reasons. Though the technology won’t be of use to consumers for years, quantum computing, and the breathtaking speeds it promises, are the future of the electronics industry. If this technology can be used in a practical way, it’s a significant leap forward in technology, but one that comes with some interesting economic implications.
Today, diamonds and superconductors are often used to perform the function that these atomic-sized transistors serve. Those, often, are either extremely scarce materials or materials that are wrenched from the earth by a brutally exploited labor force, particularly in diamond mines in some African countries. Silicon and phosphorous, on the other hand, are far cheaper and more abundant, which could cut costs – both ethical and financial – in the consumer electronics industry. It would also render China’s control of many rare-earth superconductor metals far less potent of an economic advantage. It’ll be very interesting to see what this technology means for the future – for now, we can all be content to marvel at the kind of technology that can so precisely control something so unimaginably small.