The Future is in Nanotubes
In technology, smaller is better. The bulky tubes in televisions were eventually replaced by solid state electronic components, portable radios shrank to the size of ones you could put in your pocket, and the first cumbersome computers slimmed down until they could fit into anyone’s bedroom, living room or study. The process of shrinking the size of technical applications for maximum performance is known as “Moore’s Law”, after the Intel co-founder, Gordon Moore, who as early as 1965, observed that the transmitted communications industry was doubling the number of transistors it could build on a single chip at routine intervals of 12 to 18 months.
In recent years however, this process has slowed down. While microchip makers have continued to double the number of transistors on memory chips and microprocessors, their performance, measured as “clock speed”, has stalled. In response, the computer industry has had to build parallel computers to boost speed, increasing the number of processors. Even smart phones are built with as many as four tiny processors, called “cores” to break up the tasks so they can be processes simultaneously.
I.B.M. claims it may have the solution for continuing to shrink the tiny digital switches that govern microchip logic gates through the use of nanotubes. The IBM researchers have succeeded in integrating an array of carbon nanotubes with the surface of a silicon wafer, using them to build nanotube-silicon chips with more than 10,000 working transistors.
Chipmakers have already been able to shrink chips to less than a wavelength of light. With continued advances, they will soon be able to make chips that would be measured in terms of just a handful of atoms. Scientists feel the I.B.M. breakthrough is significant because they have not yet discovered a way of moving forward beyond the next two or three generations of silicon based chips.
The nanotube-silicon devices have out-performed all other experimental switches made from any other material. Device physicists state simulations have shown a factor of five or more performance improvements over conventional silicon devices.