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Electrical circuits at terahertz frequencies

14 Apr 2014

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Researchers from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Faculty of Science and the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have successfully designed and fabricated electrical circuits that can operate at hundreds of terahertz frequencies, which is tens of thousands times faster than today's microprocessors, a report from Newswise revealed.

This novel invention uses a new physical process called 'quantum plasmonic tunnelling.' By changing the molecules in the molecular electronic device, the frequency of the circuits can be altered in hundreds of terahertz regime. The new circuits can potentially be used to construct ultra-fast computers or single molecule detectors in the future, and open up new possibilities in nano-electronic devices. The study is funded by the National Research Foundation (NRF) and A*STAR and results of the research were first published in the scientific journal Science.

Light is used as an information carrier and transmitted in optical fibre cables. Photonic elements are large but they operate at extremely high frequencies of 100THz—about 10,000 times faster than the desktop computer. But current nano-electronic devices operate at length scales that are much smaller, making it very difficult to combine the ultra-fast properties of photonic elements with nano-scale electronics.

Scientists have long known that light can interact with certain metals and can be captured in the form of plasmons, which are collective, ultra-fast oscillations of electrons that can be manipulated at the nano-scale. The so-called quantum plasmon modes have been theoretically predicted to occur at atomic length scales. However, current fabrication techniques can only reach length scales that are about 5nm larger, therefore quantum-plasmon effects have been difficult to investigate.

In this landmark study, the research team demonstrated that quantum-plasmonics is possible at length scales that are useful for real applications. Researchers successfully fabricated an element of a molecular electronic circuit using two plasmonic resonators, which are structures that can capture light in the form of plasmons, bridged by a layer of molecules that is exactly one molecule thick. The layer of molecules switches on the quantum plasmonic tunnelling effects, enabling the circuits to operate at terahertz frequencies.

The researchers used an advanced electron microscopy technique to visualise and measure the opto-electronic properties of these structures with nanometre resolution. The measurements revealed the existence of the quantum plasmon mode and that its speed could be controlled by varying the molecular properties of the devices.

By performing quantum-corrected simulations, they confirmed that the quantum plasmonic properties could be controlled in the molecular electronic devices at frequencies 10,000 times faster than current processors.

The results open up possible new design routes for plasmonic-electronics that combines nano-electronics with the fast operating speed of optics.




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