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2015

silicene_Fig1a2.jpg

Silicene Structure concept art (via UT at Austin)

 

While some researchers are hard at work to achieve quantum computing on a chip, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin’s Cockrell School are busy making history. The research team recently created an atom-thick transistor made from silicon particles, called silicene, which may revolutionize computer chips.

 

There had been talk about the development of silicene, but it had yet to be constructed, until recently. Assistant Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Deji Akinwande and lead researcher Li Tao successfully built the first-ever silicene chip last month. The team looked to current graphene-based chip development for guidance, but discovered a major issue at the onset – silicene was sensitive to air.

 

To circumvent this issue, Akinwande and Tao worked with Alessandro Molle of the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Agrate Brianza, Italy, to construct the delicate material in an airtight space. The team was able to form a thin silicene sheet by condensing silicon vapor onto a crystalline silver block in a vacuum chamber. Once the sheet was formed, silicene atoms were placed on a thin silver sheet and covered with a layer of alumina that was one nanometer thick. Once formed, the team was able to peel the silicene sheet off of the base and move it to an oxidized-silicon substrate. The result was a functional silicene transistor that joined two metal groups of electrodes.

 

The transistor was only functional for a few minutes before crumbling due to instability in air. While the transistor’s capabilities were rather archaic, the UT team was successfully able to fabricate silicene devices for the first time ever through low-temperature manufacturing. As silicone is a common base for computer chips, the researchers are confident that the technology could be adopted relatively easily, to make for faster, low-energy digital chips.

 

The team of scientists plans to continue its research to develop a more stable silicene chip. Having a super-thin silicene transistor could incredibly enhance the speed of computing, but it isn’t without competition. Graphene-based transistors have been under development for quite some time and may also be a solution to the question of how to enhance computing capabilities. Both technologies, however, may fail to surpass the potential power of the Università degli Studi di Pavia in Italy’s newest quantum chip. The chip features entanglement capabilities, potentially allowing an entire network to function as one unit. The new technology may also make cyber threats a thing of the past.

 

At present, emerging chip technologies are all still in need of further development before they are ready to hit the market. No one knows which technology will prevail, but it certainly is exciting.

 

The Cockrell School’s Southwest Academy of Nanoelectronics, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Army Research Office and the European Commission’s Future and Emerging Technologies Programme funded the University of Texas at Austin-based project.

 

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Photon Entanglement Ring Resonator visualization (via Davide Grassani, Stefano Azzini, Marco Liscidini, Matteo Galli, Michael J. Strain, Marc Sorel, J. E. Sipe, and Daniele Bajoni)


As IBM readies its brain-like computer-on-a-chip for mass production, the Università degli Studi di Pavia in Italy is making history, as it just built the very first chip capable of entangling individual light particles. The new technology may inspire a host of novel computing innovations and quite possibly put an end to cyber threats as we known them.

 

Entanglement is an essential quantum effect that enables the instant connection between two particles, regardless of distance. This means that anything done to one particle will be instantaneously done to another particle, even if it is at the other end of the universe. The entanglement of photons isn’t a new technology, but researchers at the Università degli Studi di Pavia, including co-author on the paper Daniele Bajoni, made history in successfully scaling the technology down to fit on a chip.

 

Researchers have been trying to scale down entanglement technology for years. Typically, the technology is harnessed through specialized crystals, but even the smallest set-up was still a few millimeters thick. Bajoni and his team decided to try a different approach and instead built what they call micro-ring resonators onto an ordinary silicon chip. The resonators embed coils into silicon wafers that capture and re-release photons. The design results in successful entanglement at an unparalleled width of 20 microns, or one-tenth the thickness of a strand of human hair.

 

The technology has huge implications for computing, as entanglement can exponentially increase computing power and speed. Computing communication can become instantaneous, as can other communication technologies. Tweeting at the speed of light, anyone? While these potentialities for advancements in computing are impressive, the biggest impact it may make is in inhibiting cyber threats.

In entanglement, particles act as one cohesive unit. Hackers operate by identifying weaknesses in computer and information systems and exploiting them. If computing and information systems, however, operate as one cohesive unit, there would be no way through which a hacker could breach the system, thus eliminating cyber threats. Sorry Dshell analysts.

 

The new quantum chip is infinitely more powerful than even the most cutting-edge supercomputers around today. It has the potential power to revolutionize communication, computing and cybersecurity, by enabling the adoption of quantum technologies, such as quantum cryptography and quantum information technologies. When we can expect to see this technology rule supreme, however, is another subject entirely.

 

Bajoni believes the technology is the connector through which innovation technologies can begin harnessing quantum power on a small scale, but others disagree. Some believe ring resonators must be produced on a nanoscale first to compete with up-and-coming nano-processors. Only time will tell, but our bet is cybersecurity stakeholders, at the least, will begin looking into the chip’s development. Until quantum mobile communication is available, however, you’ll just have to upload your social media photos like everybody else, 3-4GBs at a time.

 

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