As Chips Shrink, So Can The Wires

By Aaryaa Padhyegurjar

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The wires that transport electricity to microchips must advance in size, speed, and functionality at the same rate as the microchips. However, the amount of reduction in size is physically limited…

Paul Sokol. (Photo by Indiana University)

The secret to shrinking microchips has been discovered by physicists at Indiana University and the University of Tennessee, and it involves helium. “In a traditional system, as you put more transistors on, the wires get smaller,” said Paul Sokol, a professor in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Physics. “But under newly designed systems, it’s like confining the electrons in a one-dimensional tube, and that behavior is quite different from a regular wire.”

Sokol and Adrian Del Maestro, a professor of physics at the University of Tennessee, worked together to build a model system of electronics packed inside a one-dimensional tube in order to explore the behaviour of particles in these conditions. Helium was chosen  as a model system for their research because of its well-known interactions with electrons and the ease with which it can be made incredibly pure.

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“Think of it like an auditorium,” Sokol said. “People can move around in lots of different ways. But in a long, narrow hall, nobody can move past anyone else, so that behavior becomes different. We’re exploring that behavior where everyone is confined in a row. The big advantage of using a helium model is that we can go from having very few people in the hall to having it packed. We can explore the entire range of physics with this system, which no other system lets us do.”

The researchers also faced numerous other difficulties in developing a one-dimensional helium model system. For instance, it was too challenging to take measurements if they attempted to create a tube tiny enough to store the helium. “You literally need to make a pipe that is only a few atoms wide,” Del Maestro said. “No normal liquid would ever flow through such a narrow pipe, as friction would prevent it.”

The scientists used one-dimensional channel glasses that had been coated with argon to create a smaller channel and nano-engineered a material to address this problem. Then, they could create samples that could support the application of methods like neutron scattering to obtain in-depth knowledge about the system and hold a lot of helium. Del Maestro and Sokol have created a significant new path for this research with their experimental realisation of one-dimensional helium.


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