Plastic chips and quantum computing could be among the new ways of keeping up with Moore's Law in the future, according to a new study on nanotechnology, the science of manipulating matter on a molecular level.
The report from the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering, entitled Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties, said that advances are likely to bring the semiconductor and chemical industries closer together as researchers strive to cram ever more storage and processing power into increasingly tiny spaces.
"Alternatives to silicon-based electronics are already being explored," said the report. "For example, plastic electronics for flexible display screens."
The report also highlighted the focus on quantum dots, semiconductor nano-particles that can be tuned to emit or absorb particular light colours.
"Assuming that the considerable technological challenges of making nano-structures from complex materials can be solved, in some cases by designing at the level of a single atom, then on a 10-year timescale ... quantum computing will start to provide solutions to complex problems that are difficult or impossible to solve by conventional computing," it claimed.
Professor Ann Dowling, chairman of the working group responsible for the study, told vnunet.com: "We see tremendous benefits from nanotechnology across a whole range of application areas both now and in the future.
"Obviously, in IT and communications it is enabling the size of computer chips to continue shrinking.
"Of course, computer chips are already operating at nanotechnology levels so this is really business as usual as far as IT is concerned."
The report also warned about the health and environmental uncertainties of certain forms of nanotechnology, but Dowling stressed that these concerns were not relevant to IT.
"We see those applying to manufactured nano-particles and have pointed out very clearly that nanoscale features on a computer chip do not present any new risks," she said.
Lord Sainsbury, minister for science and innovation at the DTI, welcomed the report's findings. "Nanotechnology offers the potential to bring high-quality jobs, investment and prosperity to the UK," he said in a statement.
"It also has the ability to deliver a cleaner environment and improvements to human health, information and communication technology, and transportation."
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