A team of researchers at Yale University say they’ve built a single-molecule switch, a big step on the road to even smaller computers. Professor Mark Reed demonstrated the “single-molecule electret” on October 12th, which was able to switch from one stable state to another. This involved the insertion of a Gadolinium atom inside a carbon buckyball, and then applied an electric field, activating and deactivating the switch.
Reed worked in partnership with researchers from Rensselaer Poly, as well as the universities of Nanjing, Renmin and Xiamen. He said that the “module is acting as if it has two stable polarization states,” and it’s even possible to use it to “make a memory of it.” That means there’s a small possibility that, in the future, it could be possible to build CPUs and memory chips at a molecular scale.
It should be noted that we’re a long, long way from being able to build a molecular computer, but this is an encouraging first start. Proving that such a machine is possible opens the doors to more research in future, and hopefully one that’ll benefit future generations.
This is important because the computing world runs on switches, CPUs are essentially filled with billions of tiny switches. And in order for our machines to get faster, their brains need to get smaller -- something that Intel is currently struggling to achieve. After all, the smaller you get, the more the laws of physics get in the way, so being able to leap down to the molecular level could produce staggering levels of performance.