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Chips made with carbon nanotubes?
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Written by Gizmo   
Monday, 13 November 2006 06:46

There is an interesting story over at CNET about how Intel are working on practical applications of carbon nanotubes in semiconductor manufacturing.  Apparently, the fair-haired boys at Intel have managed to fabricate carbon nanotube wires and measure their characteristics.  If all goes well, carbon nanotubes could help pave the way for even smaller and faster chips.

Carbon nanotubes are not quite superconductors, but they can be made to conduct electricity much better than, say, copper wiring.  As the feature sizes used in semiconductors (particularly CPUs and GPUs) continues to shrink, so must the size of the wiring, or interconnect.  For metalic conductors such as copper, this shrinkage can cause the impedance of the interconnect to get very high very quickly, limiting the amount of power that can be safely transmitted from one point to another.  Ultimately, this also limits how much work the circuit can do in a given period of time.  Because carbon nanotubes can be made to have a much lower electrical resistance than even copper, they appear to be a good candidate for addressing this issue.

Unfortunately, current semiconductor manufacturing processes aren't really geared for fabricating carbon nanotubes on the chip, and even if they were, current techniques for producing carbon nanotubes are, shall we say, unpredictable.   The nanotubes are of varying lengths and varying characteristics.  A batch of nanotubes might contain wires, insulators, or something in between.  In fact, it might even contain EVERYTHING in between!

In any case, the research is continuing.  Intel's research appears to be based, at least in part, on previous research conducted by VLSI Technology.

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