nanoHUB-U: Fundamentals of Nanoelectronics - Part A: Basic Concepts (2015)

Basic Concepts presents key concepts in nanoelectronics and mesoscopic physics and relates them to the traditional view of electron flow in solids.


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First in a two part series, Part A: Basic Concepts (2015) is designed to convey the key concepts developed in the last 20 years, which constitute the fundamentals of nanoelectronics and mesoscopic physics.

Second in the series,  Fundamentals of Nanoelectronics - Part B: Quantum Transport,  is now available as a free self-paced course on edX and nanoHUB-U

Scientific Overview:

Download mp4 video

Course Description:

The modern smartphone is enabled by a billion-plus nanotransistors, each having an active region that is barely a few hundred atoms long. Interestingly the same amazing technology has also led to a deeper understanding of the nature of current flow on an atomic scale and my aim is to make these lessons from nanoelectronics accessible to anyone in any branch of science or engineering. I will assume very little background beyond linear algebra and differential equations, although we will be discussing advanced concepts in non-equilibrium statistical mechanics that should be of interest even to specialists.

In the first half of this course (4 weeks) we will introduce a new perspective connecting the quantized conductance of short ballistic conductors to the familiar Ohm's law of long diffusive conductors, along with a brief description of the modern nanotransistor. In the second half (4 weeks) we will address fundamental conceptual issues related to the meaning of resistance on an atomic scale, the interconversion of electricity and heat, the second law of thermodynamics and the fuel value of information.

Overall I hope to show that the lessons of nanoelectronics lead naturally to a new viewpoint, one that changes even some basic concepts we all learn in freshman physics. This unique viewpoint not only clarifies many old questions but also provides a powerful approach to new questions at the frontier of modern nanoelectronics, such as how devices can be built to control the spin of electrons.

This course was originally offered in 2012 on nanoHUB-U and the accompanying text was subsequently published by World Scientific. I am preparing a second edition for publication in 2015, which will be used for this course. The manuscript will be made available to registered students.


This course is intended to be broadly accessible to students in any branch of science or engineering.  Students should have a basic familiarity with calculus and elementary differential equations.  No prior acquaintance with quantum mechanics is assumed.

Recommended Reading: 

Lessons from Nanoelectronics: A New Perspective on Transport, by Supriyo Datta, Purdue University

Course Outline:

Unit 1: The New Perspective

1.1 Introduction
1.2 Two Key Concepts
1.3 Why Electrons Flow
1.4 Conductance Formula
1.5 Ballistic (B) Conductance
1.6 Diffusive (D) Conductance
1.7 Connecting Ballistic (B) to Diffusive (D)
1.8 Angular Averaging
1.9 Drude Formula
1.10 Summary

Unit 2: Energy Band Model

2.1 Introduction
2.2 E(p) or E(k) Relation
2.3 Counting States
2.4 Density of States
2.5 Number of Modes
2.6 Electron Density (n)
2.7 Conductivity vs. Electron Density (n)
2.8 Quantum Capacitance
2.9 The Nanotransistor
2.10 Summary

Unit 3: What and Where is the Voltage

3.1 Introduction
3.2 A New Boundary Condition
3.3 Quasi-Fermi Levels (QFL's)
3.4 Current from QFL's
3.5 Landauer Formulas
3.6 What a Probe Measures
3.7 Electrostatic Potential
3.8 Boltzmann Equation
3.9 Spin Voltages
3.10 Summary

Unit 4: Heat and Energy:
Second Law & Information

4.1 Introduction
4.2 Seebeck Coefficient
4.3 Heat Current
4.4 One-level Device
4.5 Second Law
4.6 Entropy
4.7 Law of Equilibrium
4.8 Shannon Entropy
4.9 Fuel Value of Information
4.10 Summing up



Course Reviews:

  • " I am a researcher in microelectronics fabrication with interests in molecular and organic electronics. This course is an excellent introduction to nanotransport. The strong points (a) Prof Datta is an excellent teacher and  has put a lot of effort to cut down everything in small digestible pieces. (b) The formalism is simplified enough to transmit the message. It is advisable for someone following the course to compare always with standard   texts of Solid State Theory, Semiconductors, Quantum and Statistical Mechanics. (c) I specially liked the clear presentation of the ballistic model, the relation to thermodynamics and the presentation of the MOS  transistor. A couple of (not so) weak points. (a) the connection of ballistic to diffusive regime was clear but left something to be desired. I would like to si more elaboration specially regarding the time and the lambda parameter. (b) There are a few straight forward applications of the general current expression that could be discussed or worked out or at least referenced such the Richardson law, the Schottky diode, the Arrhenius  dependence in hopping conductance or a couple of models in tunneling. Overall, excellent cource, I am looking forward for part 2!"  ...posted anonymously on edX, Spring 2015
  •  "… the pedagogical imperative in research is very important to me, and so I really value a kindred spirit. Your (Datta's) online courses are just wonderful!"... Roald Hoffmann, http://en.wikipedia/wiki/Roald_Hoffmann,  Cornell University
  • "The course was just awesome .. Prof. Datta's style of delivering lecture is mind-blowing."...From anonymous student in previous offering.