The quest for the smallest

Quite unlike the email flooding my spam box, we engineers are on a quest to make the smallest molecule talk. Sure we’ve heard of Intel’s 6nm gate prototype transistor, but its not just the physical dimensions being broken using intricate material science, its the devices themselves.
What we see with the smart phones and the tablets is not new technology, but how the technology is packaged. Then there are scientific instruments themselves. What cost perhaps millions of dollars to buy and maintain today can be done with embedded controller based instruments.
The key to scaling down here with existing technology is to identify the application and design instruments to serve that application. In this process, it is possible to make products cost efficient for more applications and compact enough to include rugged environment protection. These previous lines have been written down in many a Embedded system textbook.
But the real news is that how even these instruments can push boundaries. Granted, we are unlikely to build a dark matter detector in a small box any time soon,(we sure will try) but thanks to IC designers and some tweaking, performance on several parameters including ultra low noise, stability and drift levels can also be obtained in space constrained and rugged environment conditions. We sure cannot “see” a single electron, but can find the next best thing: bunches of them. The market has today has opamps with noise down to a few femto amps, then there’s low cost 24 bit ADC chips. Of course there’s the materials where 200uf caps are available in 1206 ceramic packages.(I always have a twinge of regret for the Congolese when I recommend Tant caps not to mention the danger of placing them in reverse in prototype boards)
In short, its a good time to be an engineer to push the boundaries of what we know. I will defer to my physicist friends and colleagues to create new knowledge Universes.

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