1987: Single Electron Tunneling Transistor
In 1987, Dmitri Averin and Konstantin Likharev, then at the University of Moscow, proposed the idea of a new device called a single-electron tunneling (SET) transistor.
Two years later, Theodore Fulton and Gerald Dolan at Bell Labs in the US built such a device. In this structure, the controlled movement of individual electrons through a nanoscale device was first achieved.
Single-electron devices are based on what is called the tunnel effect. When two metallic electrodes are separated by an insulating barrier about one nanometer thick (approximately 3 atoms in a row), the electrons are able to “tunnel” through the insulator, even though classical theory suggests that this is impossible.
Researchers have long considered whether SET transistors could be used for digital electronics, but the random variations in voltage from device to device caused serious problems.
Working at the nanoscale, today’s researchers are considering how to overcome this problem by combining all of the components of the SET transistor into a single molecule. It is possible that conventional circuits will one day be replaced by electronics based on individual molecules and form the basis for a new class of nanoelectronics.
(Theory – DV Averin and KK Likharev, J. Low Temp. Physics. 62, 345, 1986)
(Demonstrated – TFulton and GJ Dolan, Phys. Rev. lett. 59, 109, 1987)