"Super hero" electrons could speed up computers

Electron breakthrough could herald faster connections between circuits

Stewart Mitchell
15 Jul 2010

Scientists at Princeton University in the US believe a newly-discovered breed of “super hero” electron could lead to faster connections in future nanoscale computing devices and improve conductivity in computing bottlenecks.

The scientists have discovered that electrons on the surface of certain materials – particularly antimony - are able to dodge around, jump over or break through cliff-like surface imperfection as they appear at the molecular level.

Material imperfections just cannot trap these surface electrons

“Material imperfections just cannot trap these surface electrons," said Princeton physics professor Ali Yazdani.

"This demonstration suggests that surface conduction in these compounds may be useful for high-current transmission even in the presence of atomic scale irregularities - an electronic feature sought to efficiently interconnect nanoscale devices."

According to the scientists, the discovery presents the possibility of speeding up integrated circuits that process information via the flow of electrons between different devices.

The new materials could also break the bottleneck that occurs when metallic interconnects get so small that even the tiniest atomic imperfection hinders their performance.

Free electrons are responsible for the generation of electric current, playing a central role in numerous applications, including providing the current for modern electronic devices

However, for most metals, electrons in the interior carry most of the electrical current, with the electrons at the surface being only partially mobile because they can't surmount the rugged terrain.

Because the super electrons move freely on the surface of the antimony produced for the experiment, the researchers said they could be much more useful than electrons on the surface of most conducting materials, such as copper.

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