Helping the hunt for something to replace silicon transistors, Big Blue researchers have found a way to precisely place carbon nanotubes -- or rather, to encourage them to place themselves.
by Stephen Shankland
| October 28, 2012 11:00 AM PDT
IBM brings carbon nanotube-based computers a step closer | Cutting Edge - CNET News
IBM's technique can arrange single carbon nanotubes -- and sometimes pairs -- between two electrical contacts. It's an essential part of making a transistor in which a nanotube leads from a source on one side to a drain on the other. At left in this is an image of a chip designed to test the technology electrically; at right is a close-up of the nanotubes stretching from one electrical contact to another.
In the effort to find a replacement for today's silicon chips, IBM researchers have pushed carbon nanotube technology a significant step ahead.
Carbon nanotubes are very small structures made of a lattice of carbon atoms rolled into a cylindrical shape, and a team of eight researchers have figured out a way to precisely place them on a computer chip, IBM announced today. That development allows them to arrange the nanotubes 100 times more densely than earlier methods, a key step in economical chipmaking, and IBM has built a chip with more than 10,000 carbon nanotube-based elements.
The new technique helps improve the nanotubes' chances in the hunt for alternatives once today's silicon transistor technology runs out of steam. Today's chips are made of tiny electrical switches called transistors, and carbon nanotubes are a potential substitute for the silicon channels that carry electrical current in those transistors.
Moore's Law has successfully improved microchips for decades by shrinking chip elements to ever-smaller sizes, and it's got years of life yet in it. Today's Intel "Ivy Bridge" Core processors found in new PCs have transistor elements measuring 22 nanometers, or billionths of a meter, and Intel thinks it can shrink that over several generations of improvement down to 5 nanometers. Beyond that, though, processors will probably need to be built with very different technology.