Electronics play by a new set of rules at the molecular scale

“Everyone who has worked with basic electronic circuits knows that there are some simple rules of the road, like Ohm’s Law,” explains collaborator Mark Hybertsen, a physicist at Brookhaven’s Center for Functional Nanomaterials (CFN). Hybertsen provided the theory to model the observed circuit behavior with the CFN’s computational tools. “For several years we have been asking fundamental questions to probe how those rules might be different if the electronic circuit is shrunk down to the scale of a single molecule.”

Conductance measures the degree to which a circuit conducts electricity. In a simple circuit, if you hook the resistors up in parallel, the electrons can flow through two different paths. In this case, the conductance of the full circuit will simply be the sum of the conductance of each resistor.

However, in a molecular circuit, the rules that govern current flow now involve fundamental quantum mechanics. In most single-molecule circuits, the molecules do not behave like conventional resistors; instead, the electrons tunnel through the molecule. When the molecule offers two pathways in parallel, the wave-like movement of an electron can dramatically change the way conductance adds up. For several years, experts in nanotechnology have suspected—but not proven—that quantum interference effects make the conductance of a circuit with two paths up to four times higher than the conductance of a circuit with a single path. Via Electronics play by a new set of rules at the molecular scale.

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