Transistors get more shrunk by IBM scientists

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ARMONK, NY- International Business Machines Corporation (NASDAQ: IBM) The technology giant has managed to develop a set of transistors that are even smaller than previous generations.

In the semiconductor industry, scientists and engineers are striving to make transistors smaller and smaller. However, there is what is known among those people as the “red brick wall”, which, as the phrase suggests, is the industry’s incapability of making transistors smaller than a certain size.

That was until now, as on Thursday, a team of IBM scientists reportedly found a way around the wall. In more details, on an article on the journal Science, a team at the company’s Thomas J. Watson Research Center claimed that it can make transistors from parallel rows of carbon nanotubes.

For those of you who wish to dig further, the idea is that having found a new way to connect ultrathin metal wires to the nanotubes will allow the width of wired – and thus the transistors – to keep shrinking without necessarily increasing the electrical resistance.

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According to researchers, during the next decade, the contact point between the two materials will be roughly 40 atoms in width and about three years later, that number will go even lower to 28 atoms.

Now just out of clear academic curiosity let’s bring some math to the game. An atom’s diameter is 62 pm (He) to 520 pm (Cs). Before we go any further let’s note that He is Helium, Cs is Caesium and pm stands for pico-metres – 1pm=10-12m. That should give you an idea of the sizes we’ll be referring to from the next decade.

And having unlocked the ability to reduce electrical resistance, we get more good news, as not only will scientists be able to shrink transistors even further, but computer processors speed will also increase by a lot, which has been a concern for the last few years.

The challenge of carbon nanotubes in their typical state is that they form what scientists call a giant “hairball” of interwoven molecules. Researchers, however, have managed to align them properly and with great precision on silicon wafers serving as semiconductors, which means that their electrical current to be switched on and off in a computer circuit. So far, that material has only been seen as a replacement of silicon which more than half a century, had been the main component used by chip makers.

Dario Gil, vice president for science and technology at IBM Research said:

“Of all the possible materials, this one is at the top of the list by a long shot. By way of analogy, in the past we have had to carve in marble to create a statue. With carbon nanotubes, you begin with dust and you have to find a way to assemble it into a statue.”

Subhasish Mitra, a Stanford University electrical engineer also added:

“Carbon nanotube field-effect transistors are excellent candidates for improving the performance and energy efficiency of future computing systems.”

Up until now, manufacturers had to settle either for high performance or low power consumption as there was no practical way to combine the two of them. Now that IBM scientists have swapped carbon nanotube transistors for conventional ones in a simulated IBM microprocessor, they increased the speed by a factor of seven and achieved power savings almost as significant.

Source: New York Times

Photo credit: Daily Mail

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