In a proof-of-concept study, researchers have created self-assembled, protein-based circuits that can perform simple logic functions. The work demonstrates that it is possible to create stable digital circuits that take advantage of an electron's properties at quantum scales.
One of the stumbling blocks in creating molecular circuits is that as the circuit size decreases the circuits become unreliable. This is because the electrons needed to create current behave like waves, not particles, at the quantum scale. For example, on a circuit with two wires that are one nanometer apart, the electron can "tunnel" between the two wires and effectively be in both places simultaneously, making it difficult to control the direction of the current. Molecular circuits can mitigate these problems, but single-molecule junctions are short-lived or low-yielding due to challenges associated with fabricating electrodes at that scale.
"Our goal was to try and create a molecular circuit that uses tunneling to our advantage, rather than fighting against it," says Ryan Chiechi, associate professor of chemistry at North Carolina State University and co-corresponding author of a paper describing the work.
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