How does electricity flow through small objects?

How does electricity flow through small objects?


When we think of electricity flowing
through conductive material we might picture it like water flowing through a
pipe. Here water consists of many particles and the larger the pipe the
more the particles can flow and the more pathways they can take on their journey
from one end to the other. But, if we could make water flow through a pipe so
narrow that only a single particle could pass through it, we could control with
great precision the route that particle would take. But is the same true of
electricity where the electrical current is carried by many electrons? Is it
possible to precisely control the pathway of an electron by creating
electrical circuits on a nano scale and if we could how might that change the
way we use electricity in the future? At the University of Oxford there is a team
dedicated to finding out how electricity behaves when it flows through a single
molecule. They’ve developed a method for making nano scale electrodes from
ribbons of two-dimensional graphite or graphene. They use electrical pulses to
break the graphene creating a gap just big enough for a single molecule such as
benzene which has a ring like structure once the molecule is in place they get
to work trying to reveal electrical phenomena that can only be observed in
such tiny structures. It’s the very first step towards their long-term aim of
using these phenomena to build nano scale electronic components one of these
electrical phenomena is quantum interference which makes use of the
quantum mechanical wave like properties of electrons. For instance when a single
electron is offered two pathways due to its quantum behavior the electron can
take both pathways at once and if those pathways connect the electron waves meet
exaggerating or cancelling each other just as ripples on water do. At Oxford
the researchers believe that if it’s possible to control how these waves meet
and whether they exaggerate or cancel each other it’s possible to use quantum
interference to create a simple energy efficient switch
and that’s just the start conductive wires insulators transistors with
greater control and understanding of electricity it may become possible to
make a full range of tiny and highly energy-efficient molecular components to
replace current technology.

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