As devices shrink, pushing Moore’s Law to its limits, the semiconductor industry has to be creative with pushing the size envelope.
It is crazy to think that we are now seeing feature sizes of some devices that are as small as a few atoms thick with line thickness of just one atom. There is a substantial increase in research development because manufacturing companies are continuously hitting brick walls to find solutions. Nanotechnology is taking over to be one of the most active and promising fields of technology. This technology can be applied to everything from clothing to golf balls, so of course billions of dollars are going into the research of semiconductor fabrication.
Intel defines nanotechnology as being “components below 100 nanometers.” Microprocessor designer Nick Tredenick believes that nanotechnology has the potential to lead the semiconductor industry to long-term growth and eliminate the boom-and-bust cycles. Some nanotechnology developments we will likely see in the near future are:
- CNTs (Carbon Nanotubes): A tube-shaped material, made of carbon that is measured on the nanometer scale. They are ballistic conductors with quantum behavior and exhibit exceptionally low electrical resistance. One of the major causes of power consumption and propagation delay in semiconductor circuits is the RC time (the time required to charge the capacitor through the resistor) constant of interconnects; reducing R by a factor of 10 will confer significant benefits to conventional semiconductors.
- Nanotechnology may replace gold plating found on the connectors of virtually every plug-in card. Gold is an excellent conductor, but nanomaterials that are under development may mimic the electrical and mechanical properties of gold. This will allow for a stable and low price since nanomaterials are base metal alloys.
- Germanium: A method to make semiconducting nanoscale circuits from grapheme, a form of carbon only one atom thick. This was developed to revolutionize electronic circuitry by the research team from the University of Wisconsin (UW). “What we’ve discovered is that when graphene grows on germanium, it naturally forms nanoribbons with these very smooth, armchair edges,” said Michael Arnold, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at UW-Madison. “The widths can be very, very narrow and the lengths of the ribbons can be very long, so all the desirable features we want in graphene nanoribbons are happening automatically with this technique.”
Although there are few examples of commercialized semiconductor nanotechnology, there is no doubt that it offers the prospect of significant innovation by providing materials with properties outside of the current domain.
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