Composed of a single atom of silicon and measuring less than one nanometre in diameter, these are the smallest quantum dots ever created.
Quantum dots have extraordinary electronic properties, like the ability to bottle-up normally slippery and speedy electrons. This allows controlled interactions among electrons to be put to use to do computations. Until now, quantum dots have been useable only at impractically low temperatures, but the new atom-sized quantum dots perform at room temperature.
This is pretty darn cool, and a little funny. First you have an actual atom behaving like a quantum dot, which is in effect a synthesized atom. Then you have all this quantum behavior harnessed in the service of something (positioning single electrons) that can in many ways be understood in purely classical terms.
But what I didn’t know (although it’s not really surprising) is that the configurations required to turn these things into computing devices have all been pretty thoroughly worked out, so in a sense it’s just a matter of fabbing some stuff up and watching it go. You could build a ring oscillator or a bunch of simple logic circuits or even a small CPU tomorrow, assuming you could get the atoms to cooperate.
But the researcher is wrong about one thing: quantum-dot-based chips probably won’t be a thousandth the size of equivalent conventional ones. The basic four-dot block is a few nanometers across, or about 1/10 the minimum feature size of the newest generation of chips. So more like a hundredth. Oh, well…