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January 2nd, 2008
Traditionally, heat and electronics don't agree. But physicists in Europe and Asia are beginning to see some signs of cooperation. A Finnish-Italian team has demonstrated that electrons in a specially designed transistor can carry away heat, making the device they built the smallest known refrigerator. Another team, from Singapore, has shown that heat can carry information in a transistor-like device, just like electrons do in conventional computers.
Researchers from the Helsinki University of Technology, in Finland, and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa, Italy, have created a tiny transistor—resembling in structure if not in composition the field-effect transistors in ICs—that they call a single-electron refrigerator. Two superconducting electrodes are connected to a small micrometer-sized copper slab, about 2 mm long and 1/5 mm wide. These electrodes are analogous to the source and drain of a conventional transistor, except that they are electrically isolated from the copper by a thin layer of aluminum oxide. (Two extra electrodes are attached on both sides of the source and drain for measurement purposes.) Along the copper island is placed the "gate," an electrode that controls the flow of electrons through the copper slab.
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