Although experts warn that the ability to shrink semiconductors in accordance with Moore's Law is reaching its limit, a new class of nanomaterials that can self-assemble might enable the creation of nearly molecule-scale circuits. These new materials include metals, ceramics, polymeric, and composite materials with bottom-up organization, rather than top-down.
Emerging chemical processes can cause these materials to self-assemble into circuits by forming patterns of ultrathin wires on a semiconductor wafer. Together with conventional chip-making techniques, semiconductor designers believe nanomaterials will enable a new class of computer chips that will maintain Moore’s Law and lower the cost of chip making.
Silicon Valley researchers are leading the transition from silicon to computational materials, using supercomputers to simulate predictions.
Economic factors are helping to drive this research, as Gartner predicts that next-generation semiconductor factories will cost $8 billion to $10 billion, which is more than double the current cost. This staggering expense creates a huge risk of failure for chip makers, encouraging them to turn to new self-assembling materials. For example, Sandia National Laboratories researchers in December released a paper on metal-organic frameworks, which are crystalline structures of metal ions and organic molecules that have been simulated with high-performance computers and verified experimentally.
From The New York Times
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