Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Computing with Single Atoms

atomic placement options

Left: Large atomic terraces. Right: Atomic resolution patterning by scanning tunneling microscope.

As features on silicon microchips continue to shrink, the final frontier of miniaturization is a transistor on the scale of a single atom – a technology that could revolutionize computing.

PML has begun a new research program to create just such a device in manufacturable, solid-state form by harnessing two capabilities unique to NIST.

One is the ability to precisely place individual dopant atoms on a silicon surface and create atomically aligned etch masks using a technique called hydrogen-based scanning probe lithography. Detecting and manipulating the states of those atoms, however, would be nearly impossible unless they are placed in a perfectly uniform lattice – a condition made possible by an unmatched NIST capability to make the world's most highly enriched silicon-28, most recently at 99.9999% purity.

When fully developed and characterized, the devices would not only yield unprecedented insights into conventional semiconductor performance, but would define a viable path to manufacturable atom-based solid-state quantum computing and the ultimate limit for scaling electronic devices.  

precise dopant placement scheme
Left: NIST patterned sample. Dopant atom would be placed in area indicated by circle. Right: Schematics for precise dopant placement. The purple cube represents a dopant.

Released November 26, 2014, Updated October 1, 2018