Thin films made of metal nanoparticles (grey spheres) are electrically contacted by gold electrodes. The current flowing through the films (in blue) is adjustable by the voltage of a local electrode located below the film. For the characterization, needle-shaped probes are applied to the electrodes, which provide the corresponding voltages and measure the current. Credit: Christian Klinke, University of Hamburg

Topics: Electrical Engineering, Nanotechnology, Semiconductor Technology

Researchers at the University of Hamburg in Germany have succeeded in making the first Coulomb transistor from structured thin films of colloidal metal nanoparticles. Instead of having only two states, ON and OFF, as in classic transistors based on semiconductors, the new device has sinusoidal ON/OFF characteristics.

Modern-day transistors are based on semiconducting-type materials, usually silicon. In the quest for cheaper, less power-hungry microelectronics devices, such as those in laptops, tablets and smartphones, researchers are looking into alternatives to these materials.

A team led by Christian Klinke has now made transistors from metal nanoparticles. The small size of the particles means that they no longer show metallic characteristics under current flow but instead have an energy bandgap (akin to that in semiconductors) that arises from the Coulomb repulsion between electrons in the material. This effect is known as the Coulomb blockade, and it exists even at room temperature in the materials employed in the new devices (in this case cobalt-platinum nanoparticles).

Colloidal metal nanoparticles make Coulomb transistor, Belle Dumé, Nanotech Web

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Comment by Russell A. Mebane on July 26, 2017 at 10:25am

Gold?  Nano-particles made out of platinum?  Next they'll explain that it can only be used with wires made of silver.  How is this less expensive than silicon? They do understand that silicon is popular not simply for its chemical characteristics, but also for its ready availability.  Gold and platinum are rare metals that are so valuable, countries have based their entire economies around them.  Silicon is found in dirt, just good, old-fashioned, desert sand.  Deserts have an abundance of sand, which makes silicon WAY cheaper than gold and platinum. I don't even want to think about how much the iPhone would cost with chips made from gold and platinum in it.

Comment by Joel Braverman on July 20, 2017 at 10:59am
Maybe this means we can have analog computers that don't split the world into 0 and 1 but the shades and colors in-between, yet can still be read as digital when needed.

You could get a result like "126 and ~70% of a bit" which would be read as 127 in the digital world. A future of sine waves instead of square waves. Squares being made of sines anyway, it (the universe) definitely is not all 1s and zeros.

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