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Kyle Koch


Single Electron Transistors

What Single Electron Transistors are:

A transistor is a switch that turns on when electrons are added to a

semiconductor and turns off when they are removed. The on and off states of the

transistor gives the ones and zeros of binary code that all computers need for

calculation. When a transistor confines the electrons to an extremely small volume and

communicates with the electrical leads by tunneling, turning the transistor off and on

again each time one electron is added, this is called a single electron transistor.

A single electron transistor uses controlled electron tunneling to amplify current.

Quantum dots control the flow of electrons between the source and the drain. By

manipulating the gates voltage, it changes the energy in the quantum dot. This is

accomplished by a quantum dot island connected through two tunneling junctions to a

drain and a source electrode. Through a capacitor where it is met by a gate electrode.

When no voltage or bias has been created on any electrode, the electrons in the

system do not have sufficient energy to tunnel through the junctions. Although when a

positive voltage is given to the gate electrode the energy levels of the island electrode

are decreased. This enables the electron to tunnel onto the island. It then can tunnel

onto the drain electrode. The voltage applied to the gate electrode must be less than the
coulomb gap voltage, the gate bias needs to be increased more than the point of the

maximum slope on the coulomb staircase. This causes the state with one or none

excess electrons on the island to have the same energy. This removes the Coulomb

barrier, letting electrons tunnel through the junctions moving between the source and

the drain. In the coulomb staircase the thermal energy of the system must be less than

the coulomb energy. As the gates voltage increases in quantized chunks this means to

get a single electron transistor to operate at room temperature the capacitance must be

much less than 3.09 x 10-18 Farads.

The History of Single Electron Transistors:

Charge quantizations was first observed in tunnel junctions containing metal

particles as early as 1968. Quickly following these observations the idea that the

Coulomb blockade could be overcome with a gate electrode was introduced by a

number of researchers and scientists. Kulik and Shekhter created the theory of

Coulomb-blockade oscillations, the periodic variation of conductance as the function of

a gate voltage.
The transistor was first invented in 1947 at Bell labs. And was considered the

most important invention of the 20th century. The first working example of an electronic

circuit where all its components were integrated in a single semiconductor, was

achieved in 1958 by Jack Kilby working for Texas Instruments. Moores Law was first

talked about and understood in 1970, and it states that the number of transistors in an

integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years.

In 1951 Gorter suggested that experiments by Van Itterbeek and coworkers,

who measured the current through metal grains embedded in an isolated matrix, could

be explained by single electron charging. The first transistor that used this effect to its

advantage was built by Fulton and Dolan in 1987. It was made entirely out of metals,

and observed the predicted oscillations. They made it with a metal particle connected to

two metal leads by tunnel junctions, this was all atop of an insulator with a gate

electrode underneath it. The first semiconductor Single electron transistor was

fabricated accidentally in 1989 by Scott-Thomas in narrow Si field effect transistors,

here the tunnel barriers were created by interface charges.

Now only in more modern times have metal single electron transistors been

made small enough to achieve energy quantization.

Some of the Science behind Single Electron Transistors:


An electron is a stable subatomic particle with a charge of negative electricity, it

is found in all atoms and acts as the primary carrier of electricity in solids. It can be
bound to the nucleus of an atom or free. Electrons tunnel through a barrier in Single

electron transistors to essentially flip the switch. Turning the binary code to ones or

zeros, which stores data. Electricity is the flow of charged protons or electrons.

Electrical conductivity is determined by the types of atoms in the material, and how they

are bonded or linked together. Materials with many free electrons, are called conductors

because the electrons easily travel through the material. While other materials with low

electron mobility are called insulators, because there are little or no free electrons to

provide for the flow of energy.

Electron Tunneling

Electron tunneling occurs when electrons move through a barrier that they should

not be able to move through. Electrons move in wavelike properties. These waves, if the

barrier is thin enough, the probability function may extend into the next region through

the barrier. Because there is a small probability of an electron being on the other side of

the barrier, some will indeed move though and appear on the other side. Electrons

moving through a barrier in this fashion is called electron tunneling.

When the gate bias is increased to a point corresponding to the maximum

slope on the coulomb staircase the configurations on the island with one or zero excess

electron have equal energies. This removes the coulomb barrier and allows the

tunneling to occur.

Coulomb Blockade
Coulomb Blockade is the effect of trapping an electron on an island because of

its charging effect. It occurs in single electron transistors when a positive voltage is

applied to the gate electrode, which lowers the energy levels of the island electrode.

The electron can then tunnel onto the island, filling a previously empty energy level. It

can then tunnels into the drain electrode.

The equation to find the self-capacitance of the island is

The energy levels of the island electrode are separated evenly with a separation of E .

While C is the self capacitance of the island.

To achieve Coulomb blockade, three requirements have to be met, firstly the bias

voltage must be less than the elementary charge divided by the self capacitance of the

island. Resulting in this equation: Secondly, the heat energy in the source

contact plus the heat energy in the island need to be lower than the charging energy.

Giving us this equation: . If this is not achieved the electron will be able to pass

the quantum dot via thermal excitation. Lastly the tunneling resistance (Rt) should be

greater than : Which was taken from Heisenbergs uncertainty principle.

Heisenbergs uncertainty principle accounts that the position and the velocity of an

object or particle cannot both be measured exactly at the same time.

Applications and Benefits of Single Electron Transistors:

Technological Advances
Today's electronics handles electrons as waves, they use approximately 100,000

electrons to move one bit of information. Using a single electron transistor consumer

electronics could become much more energy efficient. Single electron transistors could

be used in memory devices with much lower power consumption. Also using a single

electron device allows measurements based on the charge of a single electron, this

means that an ultra sensitive device could be achieved. This has far reaching effects in

extremely sensitive sensors, such as the detection of infrared radiation, ultra sensitive

microwave detectors, super sensitive electrometers as well as being used in Single

Electron Spectroscopy. In single electron spectroscopy the electrons addition energies

are measured in quantum dot and other nanoscale objects to give us an extremely

precise way of spectroscopy.


Single electron transistors work though controlled electron tunneling that

amplifies the current. Quantum dots control the flow of electrons between the source

and the drain. By manipulating the gates voltage, it changes the energy in the quantum

dot. They are based on the quantum mechanic properties found at the nanometric

scale. Reasonable fabrication methods have been heavily researched but the usual

fabrication issues are the resolution required and the interactions between transistors in

close proximity. A single electron transistor would improve technology as we know it

today profoundly. These benefits include but are not limited to, very energy efficient,

and smaller consumer electronics, super sensitive electrometers, single-electron

spectroscopy, DC current standards, detection of infrared radiation, voltage state

logistics, charge state logistics, and programmable single electron transistor logic.
Works Cited

Aguiam, Diogo, and Vince Obreczan. "A Brief Introduction to Single Electron Transistors." N.p., 18
Dec. 2011. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Kumar, Anil, and Dharmender Dubey. "Single Electron Transistor: Applications and Limitations ."
Http:// Research India Publications, n.d. Web. 15
Mar. 2017.

Thiele, S. "Single Electron Transistor." Springer International Publishing, 2016. Web. 13 Mar. 2017.


OF ENGINEERING, Aug. 2013. Web. <>.