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.
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