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Gizmorama - October 10, 2016

Good Morning,

Do you think that transistors are small enough? Well, scientists don't think so, so they built the world's smallest transistor. But when will it be small enough?

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Scientists closer to creating 3D computer model of a cell --*

LAWRENCE, Kan. - The creation of 3D computer model of a human cell would be a monumental breakthrough for biological research and medical science. According to a new study, advancements in molecular biology and computer science suggest such a breakthrough isn't far off.

"Recently, there has been tremendous progress in biomolecular modeling and advances at understanding life at the molecular level," Ilya Vakser, professor of computational biology and molecular biosciences at the University of Kansas, said in a news release.

Vakser is one of the co-authors of the new study, published this week in the Journal of Molecular Biology.

"Now, the focus is shifting to larger systems -- up to the level of the entire cell," Vakser said. "We're trying to capture this emerging milestone development in computational structural biology, which is the tectonic shift from modeling individual biomolecular processes to modeling the entire cell."

While some researchers have attempted to build automated 3D whole cell models, most models focus on specific intercellular processes and components -- protein complexes, protein interactions, membranes, chromosomes, thermodynamic and kinetic systems.

Researchers believe they're getting closer to fitting these individual models together in a coherent way.

"A lot of techniques that are required for this are already available -- it's just a matter of putting them all together in a coherent strategy to address this problem," Vakser said. "It's hard because we're just beginning to understand the principal mechanisms of life at the molecular level -- it looks extremely complicated but doable, so we're moving very fast -- not only in our ability to understand how it works at the molecular level but to model it."

The most obvious benefit of an accurate 3D cell model would be the ability to study the underlying mechanisms of human disease and to test the efficacy of treatments.

"It will give us ... the ability to understand mechanisms of drug action, which will be a tremendous boost to our efforts at drug design" Vakser said. "It will help us create better drug candidates, which will potentially shorten the path to new drugs."

While scientists hope to soon model human cells, the digital replication of a simpler cell -- like prokaryotic cells -- remains the first priority.

"We're trying to cut our teeth on the smallest possible cellular organisms first, then will extrapolate into more complicated cells," Vakser concluded.

*-- Scientists build world's smallest transistor --*

BERKELEY, Calif. - Silicon transistors have been getting smaller and smaller, packing more computing power into smaller dimensions all while using less energy. But silicon transistors can't get much smaller.

To keep the trend going, scientists have turned to silicon alternatives. Recently, a team scientists set a new record for world's smallest transistor using a pair of novel materials, carbon nanotubes and molybdenum disulfide. The combination belongs to a class of materials called transition metal dichalcogenides, or TMDs.

Molybdenum disulfide, or MoS2, is an engine lubricant that scientists believe has tremendous potential in the field of electronics. Like silicon, MoS2 boasts a crystalline lattice structure. But electrons don't move as easily through MoS2 as they do through silicon.

Transistors rely on a gate to control the flow of electricity through its terminals. But because silicon allows for such a free flow of electrons, the particles barge through the doors when the gate becomes too small.

"This means we can't turn off the transistors," Sujay Desai, a graduate student at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, explained in a news release. "The electrons are out of control."

When electrons are out of control, transistors leak energy.

With MoS2, scientists were able to make the gate -- and the transistor -- much smaller without making susceptible to gate-crashing electrons. In fact, Desai and his research partners built a transistor with a 1-nanometer gate. A single strand of human hair measures roughly 50,000 nanometers across.

While the feat is impressive, and the technology promising, researchers say there is much work to do.

"This work demonstrated the shortest transistor ever," Ali Javey, a professor of electrical engineering and computer sciences at the University of California, Berkeley. "However, it's a proof of concept. We have not yet packed these transistors onto a chip, and we haven't done this billions of times over."

If the technology is going to make in the electronics industry, researchers will need to find new ways to produce the materials at scale.

"Large-scale processing and manufacturing of TMD devices down to such small gate lengths will require future innovations," said Moon Kim, professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Texas, Dallas.

Still, researchers are hopeful the breakthrough will translate to smaller more efficient computer chips, and ultimately, smaller, more efficient electronics.

"A cellphone with this technology built in would not have to be recharged as often," Kim said.

The technology was detailed in a new paper published this week in the journal Science.


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