Chemists like Professor Charles Lieber of Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., may provide the answers about how to build very small computing devices. His group has developed a process where catalysts in an alcohol solution grow nanowires at room temperature.
The catalysts let the tiny, 3-nm wide wires grow in one direction. The solution is poured into a grooved channel in a polymer block to grow a group of parallel wires. Wires can be grown with different electrical characteristics. A second set of wires can be grown perpendicularly by rotating the first set by 90°. The Harvard lab has done so to create transistors that are only 10 atoms across.
A variety of research paths are being taken. The National Cancer Institute is investigating the use of nanowires in the early detection of prostate cancer. Their ballistic conductivity lets electrons travel through a conductor without losing energy. Also, a graduate student is researching the use of nanowires to create light sources and detectors.
For details, go to cmliris.harvard.edu.