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The Future of Semiconductors


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carbon nanotube wafer

Engineers at Stanford University are creating wafers like this one from carbon nanotubes, a potential successor to silicon that could make processors smaller and more energy efficient.

Credit: Norbert von der Groeben / Stanford University

Over the last half-century, as computing has advanced by leaps and bounds, one thing has remained fairly static: Moore's Law. The concept, named after semiconductor pioneer Gordon Moore, is based on the observation that the number of transistors packed into an integrated circuit (IC) doubles approximately every two years. For more than 50 years, this concept has provided a predictable framework for semiconductor development. It has helped computer manufacturers and many other companies focus their research and plan for the future.

However, there are signs that Moore's Law is reaching the end of its practical path. Although the IC industry will continue to produce smaller and faster transistors over the next few years, these systems cannot operate at optimal frequencies due to heat dissipation issues. This has "brought the rate of progress in computing performance to a snail's pace," wrote IEEE fellows Thomas M. Conte and Paolo A. Gargini in a 2015 IEEE-RC-ITRS report, On the Foundation of the New Computing Industry Beyond 2020.


 

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