A step closer toward molecular computers

By | July 25, 2019
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The illustration shows the heat flow through a single molecule—a chain of carbon atoms bridging the room-temperature electrode and the pointed, atomic-scale tip of the heated electrode. (Longji Cui, Nanomechanics and Nanoscale Transport Labs, Michigan Engineering)

Heat transfer through a single molecule has been measured for the first time by an international team of researchers led by the University of Michigan. This could be a step toward molecular computing—building circuits up from molecules rather than carving them out of silicon as a way to max out Moore’s Law and make the most powerful conventional computers possible.

“Heat is a problem in molecular computing because the electronic components are essentially strings of atoms bridging two electrodes. As the molecule gets hot, the atoms vibrate very rapidly, and the string can break,” said Edgar Meyhofer, professor of mechanical engineering.

Until now, the transfer of heat along these molecules couldn’t be measured, let alone controlled. But Meyhofer and Pramod Reddy, also a professor of mechanical engineering at U-M, have led the first experiment observing the rate at which heat flows through a molecular chain. Their team included researchers from Japan, Germany and South Korea.