Scientists from several different groups including a Princeton research team have worked in conjunction to put together an invention that will no doubt have a major impact in coming decades, and is yet another step in the super fast microcomputers that will be able to run calculations several hundred factors faster than anything currently on the market. The molecular transistor may be the biggest and smallest thing to hit computing in years.
The trend for the past twenty years is that top of the line computers get twice as fast every two years, and this translates to faster computers in the consumer market as well. The super computer of yesterday is today’s laptop or net-book, and today’s net-book will be tomorrow’s wristwatch. But eventually as computers get faster and smaller, they will run into a plateau. Eventually the gold plated material will be too small to possibly create using conventional methods. Foreseeing this, researchers have created a transistor that will eventually be able to work out all the complex machinations of today’s net-book on the head of a pin. Sound incredible? Imagine this: If the molecular transistor takes off, computers may not come to us in boxes, but rather in pocket sized spray cans. How’s that for cloud computing?
With such small costs, a Styrofoam coffee cup could be running constant diagnostics on consumer habits, blink LCD advertisements and/or promotional material, and generate ultra cheap “living text” that moves around the surface. Computers would be used once like pieces of notebook paper, then discarded or recycled into new ones. Truly nice personal computers could in seconds be capable of running calculations far in excess to anything NASA can run.
How would such an incredible feat of technological achievement work? Depending on the amount of electrical current run through a molecule at any given time, the molecule’s structure could change in accordance to it. A series of different molecules reacting in such a way thanks to billions and billions of these currents could form data, and that data could be the most basic component (ones and zeroes) of computing. With such a small surface area, electricity would have to travel less distance and power its way through less material, making a tiny computer fitting on the end of a fingernail able to be powered merely by the ambient radio waves in the air and the electrical impulses from the person using it. The result? A faster computer than anything previously imagined. Mark Reed of the Engineering and Applied Sciences lab offered the following analogy, “It’s like rolling a ball up and over a hill, where the ball represents electrical current and the height of the hill represents the molecule’s different energy states.”
How far are we from a molecular transistor such as this hitting the consumer market? Unfortunately, computers such as these are still likely at least two decades away, though many of the principles described are being currently developed. It’s just a matter of motivation for those selling the machines, and a need for faster, smaller, and more energy efficient devices.