Current-insulating molecules can shrink electronics – University of Copenhagen

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07 June 2018

Current-insulating molecules can shrink electronics

Nano science

University of Copenhagen researchers have discovered the most current-insulating molecule ever. The discovery is an important advance towards developing ever smaller electronic components for increasingly powerful computers and phones.

Computers have become exponentially more powerful, and many industries gather enormous amounts of data. But in time, the scale of data collection will become limited by the size and power of computers themselves. Photo: Getty Images


Researchers from the University of of Copenhagen’s Nano-Science Center, based at the Faculty of Science’s Department of Chemistry, have discovered the most current-insulating molecule yet to be studied. The discovery has broken the widely accepted limit of insulation properties and has the potential to influence the future of electronics.

"We have found an extremely current-insulating molecule, one that isn’t just the most insulating yet to be studied, but so insulating that a similarly-sized void would be more conductive than the functional part of this molecule," says Associate Professor Gemma C. Solomon.

It is a revolutionary achievement, since a void - a vacuum - is widely accepted to be the maximum theoretical limit for how insulating something can be produced.

Could shrink electronics

Molecules are nature’s microscopic building blocks, measuring roughly one nanometer – a billionth of a meter. The size of today’s electronic components, computer transistors for example, is limited by how small current-insulating components can be made.

When the size of a material is reduced to about one nanometer, it becomes conductive. Therefore, the design of new insulating materials for electronics is a major challenge.

"Computers have become exponentially more powerful, and many industries gather enormous amounts of data. But in time, the scale of data collection will become limited by the size and power of computers themselves," Solomon explains.

An important step 

By means of what is known as the quantum-mechanical interference effect, the research team has successfully suppressed current conductivity in materials of roughly one nanometer. However, they don’t expect the new current-insulating molecule to end up in computers or electronic gadgets any time soon.

According to Solomon, "Our results demonstrate that current size limits for insulating materials can be broken. The broader perspective is that we have found a way to make current-insulating components even smaller than they are today."

The research is the result of a collaborative effort between researchers in Copenhagen, together with colleagues at Columbia University in New York and Shanghai Normal University in China, who have been working together since 2014. The research includes calculations and computer simulations performed in Copenhagen, and experimental work done in New York and Shanghai.

The research project has just been published in Nature.