Ever play that game called Mikado, sometimes known as pick-up sticks? You hold a bunch of thin colour-coded sticks, let them fall onto a table, and then try to pick them up one at a time without moving adjacent sticks. The problem is that if one of the sticks is in contact with another, it’s almost impossible.
But this Mikado-like contact scenario may prove to be the basis for organic nanoscale wires, which would provide an alternative to traditional silicon methods of creating chips. How so?
In a rather unique technical collaboration between the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Nano-Science Center at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, specialists from these two bodies developed nanoscale electric contacts out of organic and inorganic nanowires. The wires are configured in a contact pattern similar to the Mikado game. These contact points have created switching abilities that could compete with conventional transistors.
The researchers used organic nanowires combined with tin-oxide nanowires. Like the Mikado game, the nanowires cross in a device consisting of four to six active transistor elements. A particularly encouraging sign is that the devices demonstrate a low operational current, high mobility, and good stability, all of which are necessary characteristics in order to compete with silicon.
Organic nanowires may be just what’s needed to perpetuate Moore’s Law, satiating the inherent desire of the electronics industry to double the transistors on a chip every two years. Don’t forget, nanoscale is between 1 and 100 nanometres, and a nanometre is one billionth of a metre.
However, scientists have already found that working at nanoscale dimensions can mean throwing away the physics rule book when it comes to certain materials and their conventional insulation or conductive characteristics.
For instance, make an insulator of nanowire proportions and it is no longer a true insulator. Certainly it will still stop an electron passing through it. But at the nanoscale level, the electron somehow travels around the exterior of the insulator.
Other examples of quirky behaviour at nano-scale dimensions involve gold and aluminum. Reduce aluminum to the nano world and it loses its non-magnetic properties. And the conductive characteristics of gold change to a more semiconductor- like state.
Nanoscale research delivers some surprising results. There’s no doubt that the successful marriage between biology and electronics to create successful bioelectronic chips would hugely impact our world.
Just one fascinating example would be in the application of artificial limbs. Connecting electrodes between the prosthetic and the wearer would interpret not only electrical signals, but chemically produced biological ones as well. The result would be a life-changing level of control.