IBM scientists have demonstrated a new approach to carbon nanotechnology that opens up the path for commercial fabrication of dramatically smaller, faster and more powerful nanotube computer chips.
For the first time, more than ten thousand working transistors made of nano-sized tubes of carbon have been precisely placed and tested in a chip using standard semiconductor processes.
Single-atom sheets of carbon roll up to form carbon nanotubes - 10,000 times smaller than a single strand of hair - that can be used as transistors on a chip.
Aided by rapid innovation over four decades, silicon technology has continually shrunk in size and improved in performance, thereby driving the information technology revolution. Silicon transistors have been made smaller year after year, but they are approaching a point of fundamental physical limitation. Their increasingly small dimensions, now reaching the nanoscale, will prohibit any gains in performance due to the nature of silicon and the laws of physics.
Within a few more generations, classical scaling and shrinkage will no longer yield the sizable benefits of lower power, lower cost and higher speed processors that users have become accustomed to. Carbon nanotubes represent a new class of semiconductor materials whose electrical properties are more attractive than silicon, particularly for building nanoscale transistor devices that are a few tens of atoms across.
Electrons in carbon transistors can move easier than in silicon-based devices, allowing for quicker transport of data. The nanotubes are also ideally shaped for transistors at the atomic scale, an advantage over silicon. These qualities are among the reasons to replace traditional silicon transistor with carbon - and coupled with new chip design architectures - will allow computing innovation on a miniature scale for the future.