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RedDeerGuy1's avatar

Can we make sub-atomic transistors in the future?

Asked by RedDeerGuy1 (17707points) November 1st, 2016

Will Moores law continue to make even smaller chips? Or is it dead? Not quantum physics.

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14 Answers

gondwanalon's avatar

I don’t think it’s possible because all transistors operate with elections passing through them. So electron size is likely the limiting factor. Electrons may be too large to function adequately.

dabbler's avatar

I don’t know if it’s still a ‘transistor’ at those dimensions. As @gondwanalon notes what are the electrons doing in this device?
On the other hand, for computing what you need are switches and bit storage. If you can figure out how to do that at a sub-atomic level, why not?
I think there could be a whole range of devices at the atomic level, still much smaller than current devices, that work with magnetic forces and optical signals, before going sub-atomic.

flutherother's avatar

Moore’s law is more of an observation than a law. There is a limit to how small transistors can be and we are already getting close.

LuckyGuy's avatar

The engineer in me says no. But the futurist in me says we really don’t know. “They” already know how to write and store information using single chlorine atoms on copper.
Maybe the scientists of the future will figure out a way of time-multiplexing the data so they get more than just one bit per atom. They might use twenty-six dimensional space. Who knows? As long as the laws of physics are not violated I wouldn’t rule it out.

CWOTUS's avatar

This is certainly not an area of my specialty, so most of what follows is the simple understanding that I’ve gleaned from a pretty complex subject, and the question itself is difficult to interpret when you ask for “subatomic” and “not quantum” in the same question. Essentially, isn’t subatomic the essence of quantum physics? That being so – if it is – how can you exclude quantum physics from a discussion of subatomic transistors / switching?

So… we’re (I’m using the royal we, here, because I’m certainly not involved) working on quantum computing now, where qubits can do three-position switching instead of the current binary switching that we’re (ahem) used to with current computing. That, all by itself, will be a major leap in information processing and storage. If you’re talking about “transistors”, obviously you’re more interested in processing, but since processing is also heavily dependent upon the information itself, then storage also matters.

Continuing on the quantum line, since quantum entanglement across distance seems to be a real thing, then if we can understand and control that and “read” results, it may paradoxically become possible to make the subatomic switches (transistors, in effect) that you’re thinking about, but spaced far wider than current microchips, which could resolve a lot of the power and heat issues with crowding more chips in less space. So, think “distributed processing at a distance, but with zero time lag”.

And as @LuckyGuy suggests, if we can someday knowledgeably, routinely and with some semblance of control operate along more axes than 3D + time, or if we can add dimensions to time itself in ways that I can barely imagine and probably can’t describe (how about this: serial processing that happens at right angles to the timeline of past-present-future that we live along, so that a long process could be completed along a separate time axis in such a way that it appears instantaneous to our experience) – then who knows what is possible?

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@CWOTUS Sub-atomic physics not quantum. Not with quantum qubits programming . Just using smaller and smaller particles. No super cooled transistors .

CWOTUS's avatar

But that’s what I mean, @RedDeerGuy1 – at the sub-atomic level we’re getting into quantum mechanics and the wave / particle bi-state properties of matter, aren’t we? Like I said, this is something that I don’t know much about.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

The answer is without doubt…..no. What we will have will not be a transistor in the traditional sense of the word if we move into the quantum world. A transistor works with a semiconductor such as silicon or germanium but with “doping” where atoms with different numbers of valence electron are added to the semiconductor substrate to give them the properties that allow us to use a smaller voltage to control a larger one. This is not to say that we will not be able to come up with information storage at the quantum level, it just will not be a transistor. A transistor is not really an information storage device anyway, just a building block of devices that do so.

CWOTUS's avatar

I understand that the transistor is not a storage device, but instead – at least to my elementary way of thinking about it – a switching device. I’m thinking that if we have potential three-way switching instead of just “on-off”, then there’s a likelihood that even through otherwise similar hardware, the throughput has at least a theoretical possibility to be at least 50% higher. (Of course, all other things are not equal, and software will probably lag hardware by years – and the theoretical throughput could actually be an order of magnitude faster, for all I know.)

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

@CWOTUS That is one application of a transistor, there are others but fundamentally information storage does not require them. We just need to be able to manipulate states of something and be able to both determine and change what that state is. For example, toroidal memory: a magnetic core is wound with a coil and current would be applied to magnetize the core. Depending on the direction of the current you would get a positive or negative magnetization which could be read and interpreted as a 1 or 0. No transistor needed.

gondwanalon's avatar

@dabbler Electricity is the flow of electrons. As you likely know all transistors in use today need electricity in order to function.

dabbler's avatar

As far as computing goes it can make more sense to talk about logic gates and data bandwidth. Transistors is one way to make logic gates, but for computing any practical way is okay.
Interesting research has produced optical logic gates in crystal structures, and using light promises to allow faster processing by orders of magnitude.

gondwanalon's avatar

I think that man’s greatest invention is the transistor because without it our modern world could not exist. New even more incredible inventions are likely to occur that may cause the transistor to go the way of the buggy whip.

A subatomic computer that runs on light might do the trick. But I don’t think crystals would be involve because crystals are far too large (being made of special arrangements of atoms, ions or molecules).

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