Researchers at IBM's Labs in New York have successfully created a carbon nanotube processor with more than 10,000 working transistors placed on a single chip, potentially paving the way for a new generation of super-powerful computers.
At the nano-scale, the benefit of adding more silicon transistors to a processor can be offset by physical challenge of moving electrons around.
But carbon nanotubes – single atom carbon lattices rolled into a tube – have often been touted as the future of computing, because they are better at moving electrons around than their silicon rivals.
The challenge for nanotube computing has been to fabricate processors with enough carbon-based transistors to meet performance demands.
“We are attempting the first steps towards a technology by fabricating carbon nanotube transistors within a conventional wafer fabrication infrastructure,” said Supratik Guha, director of physical sciences at IBM Research.
“The motivation to work on carbon nanotube transistors is that at extremely small nanoscale dimensions, they outperform transistors made from any other material.
"However, there are challenges to address such as ultra high purity of the carbon nanotubes and deliberate placement at the nanoscale. We have been making significant strides in both.”
Ultimately, carbon chip makers will have to be able to place a billion nanotube transistors on a processor to deliver the kind of computing horsepower needed.
But IBM's new technique is a significant milestone in reaching that goal. Previously, scientists had managed to precisely place a few hundred carbon nanotube devices onto a wafer.
The technique relies on dissolving carbon nanotubes in a special soapy solution, and then immersing a hafnium oxide-etched wafer in this mixture. The nanotubes form a chemical bond with the hafnium oxide, ensuring they can be placed in precisely the right alignment.
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