Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Will IBM develop future chips with DNA?

Scientists from IBM and California Institute of Technology are trying to build the next generation chips- smaller and more powerful, with the combination of DNA and nanotechnology. The experimental breakthrough can be a step toward developing a new technique for making smaller microprocessors beyond the traditional manufacturing processes.

In the past few years, chipmakers have been able to make tinier and powerful products, but this advancement has also pushed the limits of manufacturing techniques. According to IBM, "The revolutionary method, developed at its Almaden Research Center in California and the California Institute of Technology, can help it to make computer chips from the molecule, by arranging DNA structures on the surface of manufactured semiconductor material." Microchips are mainly used in computers, mobile phones and a broad range of electronic devices and, as chipmakers compete to develop ever-smaller chips at cheaper prices, designers are struggling to cut costs.

Spike Narayan, Research Manager, IBM said, "The biological structures like DNA actually offer some very reproducible, repetitive kinds of patterns that we can actually leverage in semiconductor processes. The combination of this directed self-assembly with today's fabrication technology for high-resolution positioning of nano-objects eventually can lead to substantial savings in the most expensive and challenging part of the chip making process." This combination can also help processor designers to keep pace with Moore's Law - the 40-plus-year-old prediction by Gordon Moore that the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years.

The cost involved in shrinking features to improve performance is a limiting factor in keeping pace with Moore's Law and a concern across the semiconductor industry. Currently, the semiconductor industry is able to make processors using 22 nanometer manufacturing technology. IBM is also looking for the DNA to act as scaffolds or miniature circuit boards for the highly precise assembly of chip components, like nanotubes, nanowires and nanoparticles. After using this technique, manufacturers are likely to build 'significantly smaller' chips than has been possible with current semiconductor fabrication technology.


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