Pitt has singular focus on switches

  • 25-Jan-2012 10:46 EST
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Researchers at Pitt found that the metal clusters encapsulated within a hollow carbon cage could rotate between several structures under the stimulation of electrons. This rotation changes the molecule’s ability to conduct an electric current, thereby switching among multiple logic states without changing the spherical shape of the carbon cage.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh have announced that they have invented a new type of switch that incorporates single-molecule elements that could potentially enable smaller, faster, and more energy-efficient electronics. The research findings were supported by a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation.

“This new switch is superior to existing single-molecule concepts,” said Hrvoje Petek, Principal Investigator and Professor of Physics and Chemistry in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and co-Director of the Petersen Institute for NanoScience and Engineering at Pitt. “We are learning how to reduce electronic circuit elements to single molecules for a new generation of enhanced and more sustainable technologies.”

The switch was discovered by experimenting with the rotation of a triangular cluster of three metal atoms held together by a nitrogen atom, which is enclosed entirely within a cage made up entirely of carbon atoms.

Petek and his team found that the metal clusters encapsulated within a hollow carbon cage could rotate between several structures under the stimulation of electrons. This rotation changes the molecule’s ability to conduct an electric current, thereby switching among multiple logic states without changing the spherical shape of the carbon cage. Petek says this concept also protects the molecule so it can function without influence from outside chemicals.

Because of their constant spherical shape, the prototype molecular switches can be integrated as atom-like building blocks the size of one nanometer (100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair) into massively parallel computing architectures.

The prototype was demonstrated using an Sc3N@C80 molecule sandwiched between two electrodes consisting of an atomically flat copper oxide substrate and an atomically sharp tungsten tip. By applying a voltage pulse, the equilateral triangle-shaped Sc3N could be rotated predictably among six logic states.

The research was led by Petek in collaboration with chemists at the Leibnitz Institute for Solid State Research in Dresden, Germany, and theoreticians at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, People's Republic of China.

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