Posted by: adoseofliberty | December 11, 2009

Next Stop: Nanowires

For those who are interested in what is really meant by “Intel Inside”, it should come as no surprise that the microprocessor industry is on the verge of reaching the end of a frontier.  Transistors, which are the core components of processors used in computers, cell phones, and an increasing array of electronic devices, have been shrinking for decades.

Since the start of the modern computer era, Moore’s Law has been fairly accurate at describing the trend in computing technology, stating that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 18 months, which has been made possible because of this ability to shrink the size of these building blocks.

However, modern silicon technology, the basis of transistor manufacturing,  has finally reached the level at which transistors and the wires that connect them cannot be made any smaller, and is perhaps only five or ten years away from “maxing out.”

Source: Wikipedia, "Nanowire"

Different transistor technologies have been in research for years and one of the leading candidates for the next era of computing is the nanowire, a tiny semiconducting structure that could be used to create even smaller transistors and other electronic devices.

Up until recently the technology was not refined enough to be useful, but with a new discovery by researchers at IBM, Purdue University and the University of California at Los Angeles, the possibilities are beginning to materialize.

The researchers have learned how to create nanowires with layers of different materials that are sharply defined at the atomic level, which is a critical requirement for making efficient transistors out of the structures.

The new process has an interesting physical parallel as described in the UCLA Engineering news release:

To grow the silicon-germanium nanowires, tiny particles of a gold-aluminum alloy are first heated to temperatures above 370 degrees Celsius and melted inside a vacuum chamber. A silicon-containing gas is then introduced into the chamber, causing silicon to precipitate and form wires under the droplets. A germanium-containing gas is used to form the germanium wires.

“Think of it as ice growing from water vapor or the formation of ice crystals during a snow storm. You can get forests of ice wires under the right conditions instead of getting snow flakes or flat films of sleet,” Kodambaka said. “But instead of water vapor, we introduced silicon vapor to get the silicon wire.”

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