Researchers discovered a way to take snapshots inside the switching devices which could pave the road for quantum computing.
Electronic circuits that process and store information consist of millions of switching devices. Better understanding of these switching devices can lead to better performing circuits. Scientists have recently taken the snapshots of atoms moving inside one of those switches as it turns on and off. The researchers believe that understanding the behavior of these devices more closely can help us create faster and more efficient devices.
The research team consisted of scientists from the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Stanford University, Hewlett Packard Labs, Penn State University and Purdue University. Their work was described in the Science journal.
“This research is a breakthrough in ultrafast technology and science,” says SLAC scientist and collaborator Xijie Wang. “It marks the first time that researchers used ultrafast electron diffraction, which can detect tiny atomic movements in a material by scattering a powerful beam of electrons off a sample, to observe an electronic device as it operates.”
The team experimented using switches made from vanadium dioxide which has potential to become a basis for next generation computing devices. They used electrical pulses to toggle the switches while taking snapshots that showed subtle changes in the arrangement of their atoms over billionths of a second.
“This ultrafast camera can actually look inside a material and take snapshots of how its atoms move in response to a sharp pulse of electrical excitation,” said collaborator Aaron Lindenberg, an investigator with the Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES) at SLAC and a professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University. “At the same time, it also measures how the electronic properties of that material change over time.”
“The insulating and conducting states have slightly different atomic arrangements, and it usually takes energy to go from one to the other,” said SLAC scientist and collaborator Xiaozhe Shen. “But when the transition takes place through this intermediate state, the switch can take place without any changes to the atomic arrangement.”
According to the researchers, this method describes the robustness of the device over millions of cycles and identifies possible limits to the switching speeds of such devices.
“This method gives us a new way of watching devices as they function, opening a window to look at how the atoms move,” said lead author and SIMES researcher Aditya Sood. “It is exciting to bring together ideas from the traditionally distinct fields of electrical engineering and ultrafast science. Our approach will enable the creation of next-generation electronic devices that can meet the world’s growing needs for data-intensive, intelligent computing.”
The study has been published in the journal Science.