Dynamic reconfigurable nanowires open up new computing architectures
The two dimensional electrically conducting sheets, called domain walls, are a few atoms thick and can be created and deleted within a crystal without altering its structure.
“As things currently stand, it will become impossible to make these devices any smaller – we will simply run out of space,” said Professor Marty Gregg from the School of Mathematics and Physics who led the research. “This is a huge problem for the computing industry and new, radical, disruptive technologies are needed. One solution is to make electronic circuits more ‘flexible’ so that they can exist at one moment for one purpose, but can be completely reconfigured the next moment for another purpose.”
The team’s findings, which have been published in Nature Communications, pave the way for new computing architectures using reconfigurable nanoelectronics.
“Our research suggests the possibility to “etch-a-sketch” nanoscale electrical connections, where patterns of electrically conducting wires can be drawn and then wiped away again as often as required,” said Gregg. “In this way, complete electronic circuits could be created and then dynamically reconfigured when needed to carry out a different role, overturning the paradigm that electronic circuits need be fixed components of hardware, typically designed with a dedicated purpose in mind.”
Dr Raymond McQuaid, Dr Amit Kumar and Prof Gregg showed that long conducting sheets can be created by squeezing the crystal at precisely the location they are required, using a targeted acupuncture-like approach with a sharp needle. The sheets can then be moved around within the crystal using applied electric fields to position them.
“Our team has demonstrated for the first time that copper-chlorine boracite crystals can have straight conducting walls that are hundreds of microns in length and yet only nanometres thick,” said McQuaid. “The key is that, when a needle is pressed into the crystal surface, a jigsaw puzzle-like pattern of structural variants, called “domains”, develops around the contact point. The different pieces of the pattern fit together in a unique way with the result that the conducting walls are found along certain boundaries where they meet.
“We have also shown that these walls can then be moved using applied electric fields, therefore suggesting compatibility with more conventional voltage operated devices. Taken together, these two results are a promising sign for the potential use of conducting walls in reconfigurable nano-electronics.”