Last week both Jeremy and I blogged about the promising developments of Nanowires, which have the prospect of making tiny supercomputers, possibly powered by solar. Although the current method of growing the tiny wires like grass is fascinating, it is very inefficient. To make any of these technologies useable in the real world, vast improvements in the creation of nanowires will be needed. The National Institute of Standards and Technology have improved that by adapting techniques used in the semiconductor industry. By putting tiny amounts of gold into the substrate, they can make up to 600 tiny transistors from one batch of nanowires. The field of Nanoscience still has a long way to go but with advances like this happening all the time, we’re getting closer.
Researchers at a university in Scotland believe that thanks to ever-expanding research into ultra thin nanowires, supercomputers the size of matchboxes might not be more than a decade away. Nanowires, some 1000 times smaller than a human hair, have exhibited strange behaviour due to their small size but the scientists at the University of Edinburgh think they have worked out how to minimise it, leading to their bold prediction.
The department of Physics where I study in Bristol has a massive new nanoscience building nearing completion. The field is full of promising breakthroughs for micro-sized (and so less energy intensive) devices, especially in computing. Anyone hoping to build a palm held supercomputer may well use devices like the holographic nanoassembler coupled with high speed atomic force microscopy to put together such tiny machines. The holographic nanoassembler is especially fascinating research as it never touches the tiny particles, using lasers to manipulate the smallest of objects. Nanowires are also incredibly useful for solar panels, where current efficiency is limited by the large metal substrates that carry electric charge, which obscure some of the sun-collecting surface.