Silicon transistors keep shrinking (current state of the art is about 20 nanometers). However–in theory–once the gate goes to 5 nanometers, the electrons tunnel through the channel making it impossible to turn the transistor off. Berkeley researchers have used a different material to produce a transistor with a 1-nanometer gate. For point of reference, a human hair is about 50,000 nanometers thick.
The secret is to switch away from silicon in favor of another semiconductor. The team’s choice? Molybdenum disulfide. Never heard of it? You can buy it at any auto parts store since it is a common lubricant. Electrons have more effective mass as they travel through molybdenum disulfide than silicon. For a larger transistor, that’s not a good thing, but for a small transistor, it prevents the electron tunneling problem.
Creating a 1-nanometer structure is a challenge all by itself. The new transistor uses a 1-nanometer carbon nanotube as the gate. The transistors will need work to be commercially producible.
We didn’t know that a common lubricant is a semiconductor with similar properties to silicon. We looked at its use in thin semiconductors with graphene. We even talked about its use as a lubricant before. We just didn’t put two and two together. That’s the kind of thing that gives us ideas.