A single molecule as electric conductor. (Credit: Image courtesy of TU Graz)
Minimum size, maximum efficiency: The use of molecules as elements in electronic circuits shows great potential. One of the central challenges up until now has been that most molecules only start to conduct once a large voltage has been applied. An international research team with participation of the Graz University of Technology has shown that molecules containing an odd number of electrons are much more conductive at low bias voltages. These fundamental findings in the highly dynamic research field of nanotechnology open up a diverse array of possible applications: More efficient microchips and components with considerably increased storage densities are conceivable.
One electron instead of two: Most stable molecules have a closed shell configuration with an even number of electrons. Molecules with an odd number of electrons tend to be harder for chemists to synthesize but they conduct much better at low bias voltages. Although using an odd rather than an even number of electrons may seem simple, it is a fundamental realization in the field of nanotechnology – because as a result of this, metal elements in molecular electronic circuits can now be replaced by single molecules. “This brings us a considerable step closer to the ultimate minitiurization of electronic components”, explains Egbert Zojer from the Institute for Solid State Physics of the Graz University of Technology.
Molecules instead of metal
The motivation for this basic research is the vision of circuits that only consist of a few molecules. “If it is possible to get molecular components to completely assume the functions of a circuit’s various elements, this would open up a wide array of possible applications, the full potential of which will only become apparent over time. In our work we show a path to realizing the highly electrically conductive elements”, Zojer excitedly reports the momentous consequences of the discovery.
Specific new perspectives are opened up in the field of molecular electronics, sensor technology or the development of bio-compatible interfaces between inorganic and organic materials: The latter refers to the contact with biological systems such as human cells, for instance, which can be connected to electronic circuits in a bio-compatible fashion via the conductive molecules.