November 19, 2010

Technical details of the molecular chip project funded by Singapore and the EU

A*STAR’s Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) partners 10 EU research organisations to work on the groundbreaking €10 million ATMOL project that lays the foundation for creating and testing a molecular-sized processor chip. They are pursuing Planar multiple interconnect Atom Technology.

A*STAR’s IMRE and 10 EU research organisations are working together to build what is essentially a single molecule processor chip. As a comparison, a thousand of such molecular chips could fit into one of today’s microchips, the core device that determines computational speed. The ambitious project, termed Atomic Scale and Single Molecule Logic Gate Technologies (ATMOL), will establish a new process for making a complete molecular chip. This means that computing power can be increased significantly but take up only a small fraction of the space that is required by today’s standards.

The fabrication process involves the use of three unique ultra high vacuum (UHV) atomic scale interconnection machines which build the chip atom-by-atom. These machines physically move atoms into place one at a time at cryogenic temperatures. One of these machines is located in A*STAR’s IMRE.

It seems like this is building off of the work of the Picoinside project Christian Joachim has had an EU project since 2005, to create an Atomic Scale Technology. It is now a necessity for any uni-molecular device and machine in molecular electronics, molecular mechanics, molecular transducers and for laboratory scale experiments on one molecule.

12 page conclusion of the Pico Inside roadmap report

There are 3 ways of designing a logic gate at the atomic scale:

(1) The use of surface missing atom to fabricate an atomic scale circuit mimicking the topology of a macroscopic electronic circuit. Those surfaces are generally
passivated semi-conductor surface with a relatively large gap. Atoms are extracted one at a time to create a specific surface electronic structure in the electronic surface gap. This new electronic structure will form the surface atomic circuit. The STM vertical manipulation of the single surface atoms can be automated and
proceed in parallel.

(2) The full molecule, instead of the surface can be the electronic circuit. In this case,it is the π system of such an extended molecule which will define the circuit and the σ skeleton will ensure the full chemical stability of the molecular architecture. Such a molecule will have to be directly chemisorbed to the required number of nanometallic pads or in a very dedicated approach to surface atomic wires more able to interact with specific part of the π molecular orbitals.

(3) Molecular orbitals (from a large molecule or defined from a specific surface atomic circuit) can be manipulated by chemically bonding on the π conjugated computing board specific chemical groups able to shift the corresponding molecular states. Switchable lateral group can be very active playing donor or acceptor group to modify very locally the nodes distribution of a give molecular orbital. Such an effect can be used to design single molecule logic gate without forcing the molecule to have the topology of an electrical circuit.

Solutions (1) and (2) have been proposed long ago but are not very compatible with the quantum level where those atom circuits or molecule logic gate are supposed to work. For solution (3), a quantum Hamiltonian design of AND, NOR and even halfas
adder logic gates have been designed followed by proposal of chemical structure functioning on the manipulation of molecular orbitals

“The UHV interconnection machine at IMRE is the only one in the entire project that can study the performance of a single molecule logic gate and surface atom circuit logic gate at the moment”, added Prof Joachim, who is the Head of Molecular Nanoscience and Picotechnology at the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), and a Visiting Investigator at IMRE. Prof Joachim’s team in IMRE is one of the pioneers in atom technology, having built the world’s first controllable molecular gear.

The first mono-molecular nanoICT Working Group seminar (Dec, 2008) was the occasion to cluster in a very Cartesian way all the 4 major issues under grounded in the monomolecular approach of molecular electronics which were worked out during the 42 month of the Pico-Inside project. In all areas of technology, the construction of a complex system by assembling elementary pieces or devices leads to a Moore’s law like trend when analyzing the complexity growth of the system per year, a trend which appears threatened in the near future for microelectronics. The mono-molecular approach of molecular electronics with its compulsory atomic scale technology offers way to push past possible limitations in miniaturization, and to gain further increases in computing power by orders of magnitude by relying of a full development of an atom or molecule based technology for both electronics and machines. To reach this stage, each of the 4 issues illustrated in this concluding paper will require a specific discussion and more than that a specific research and technological development program.

Meeting the atom technology challenge for ICTs requires new understanding in four now well identified fields of science and technology:

1. Learning the kinds of architectures for molecule-machines (or atom surface
circuits) which will permit to perform for example complex logic operations stabilized at the surface of a solid where the required interconnection will be constructed.

2. Creating a surface multi-pads interconnection technology with a picometer
precision, respecting the atomic order of the surface which is supporting the nano-system assemblage.

3. Cultivating molecular surface science accompanied with molecule synthesis (respectively atom by atom UHV-STM fabrication on a surface).

4. Creating a packaging technology able to protect a functioning atom-technologybased machine, while at the same time insuring its portability.

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