IBM Researchers Demonstrate New Approach To Nanotechnology
October 29, 2012

IBM Carbon Nanotech Research Could Lead To Next-Gen Computer Chips

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Scientists working with one US-based technology giant claim that they have demonstrated a new approach to carbon nanotechnology that could pave the way to much smaller, faster, and more powerful computer chips.

IBM announced on Sunday that they had successfully created, for the first time, over 10,000 working transistors using nano-sized carbon tubes, and had also precisely placed and tested them in a single chip using normalized semiconductor processes.

According to CNET, an eight person team worked on the project, which involved the miniature structures that are comprised of "a lattice of carbon atoms rolled into a cylindrical shape.". The nanotubes "bond chemically with a special coating of materials in a trench of exposed hafnium oxide," the website said, and IBM's technique makes it possible to easily arrange one or two carbon tubes between a pair of electrical contacts.

"These carbon devices are poised to replace and outperform silicon technology allowing further miniaturization of computing components and leading the way for future microelectronics," the company explained. "The carbon nanotube forms the core of a transistor device that will work in a fashion similar to the current silicon transistor, but will be better performing. They could be used to replace the transistors in chips that power our data-crunching servers, high performing computers and ultra fast smart phones."

Engadget's James Trew called the commercial production of these carbon nanotubes "one of the holy grails of next-gen computing", and while he says that IBM isn´t the first company to claim that they had made significant headway in the research, he says that their "considerable resources" make their work in the field "particularly interesting."

The problem that IBM Research is attempting to overcome, Trew said, is that billions of semiconducting nanotubes would need to be used in order to make functioning commercial chips. However, most attempts have been limited to just a few hundred, so the researchers have been experimenting with a new technique that utilizes ion-exchange chemistry, which allows for better controlled placement of the tubes.

In order to make that happen, the carbon nanotubes are made water-soluble using a substance similar to soap. They are then chemically attached to a substrate by attaching themselves to canals of the inorganic compound halfnium oxide contained on the thin slice of material, which was immersed in the soap-solution, the Engadget writer explained. IBM is hoping that their work will encourage other companies to get involved and test their approach to nanotube technology on a far larger scale, he added.

"It´s like trying to line up spaghetti, and doing it where the lines are just six nanometers apart,” Supratik Guha, director of physical sciences at IBM Research and a spokesman for the team that did the work, told Dean Takahashi of Venturebeat on Sunday. He added that the thickness is just one nanometer, or approximately 1/100,000th that of a human hair.

Takahashi said that IBM Research "has taken the first real steps toward commercial fabrication of carbon nanotubes on top of a silicon chip," but if they (or any other company) intends to be successful in manufacturing processors out of a group of semiconducting nanotubes, they must be able to create a circuit out of them and they must be able to do so "quickly, cheaply, and consistently," Ars Technica Science Editor John Timmer said.

While Timmer says that IBM's method "still isn't ready for chip manufacture," he believes that "it's a lot closer than most previous efforts, and gives IBM's team some obvious things to troubleshoot if they want to boost the efficiency further." The company's findings have been detailed in the latest edition of the journal Nature Nanotechnology.