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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > The Future of Nanotechnology > Will Carbon Nanotubes End Moore's Law and Silicon Chips?

Amanda Richter

Abstract:
Stanford University researchers have created the first computer using carbon nanotubes (CNTs) instead of silicon chips. The nanotechnology runs faster and uses less energy, which means less heat emitted from the processors. Science is years from taking this invention and scaling it to support the vast volumes of data that silicon chips handle, but most experts agree it's a big first step.

October 22nd, 2013

Will Carbon Nanotubes End Moore's Law and Silicon Chips?

Stanford University researchers have created the first computer using carbon nanotubes (CNTs) instead of silicon chips. The nanotechnology runs faster and uses less energy, which means less heat emitted from the processors. Science is years from taking this invention and scaling it to support the vast volumes of data that silicon chips handle, but most experts agree it's a big first step.



What Experts Say about CNTs

Stanford researchers managed to build a basic computer from CNTs that performed mathematical and sorting functions, but it's nowhere near the technology needed to support, say, a graphic-dense video game.

Patrick Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy told CNME Online that the major silicon chip producers (Intel, Samsung, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company) should take this carbon nanotube technology seriously and shift away from silicon, no matter how much it costs to rework the manufacturing process. However, to be commercially viable, the CNT technology has to offer a better solution than what already exists. Not every great idea results in a profitable and market-accepted solution.

Will CNTs End Moore's Law?

Industry analysts and scientists have been predicting Moore's Law will come to an end. Coined by Intel founder Gordon Moore circa mid-1960s, Moore's Law states: The number of transistors incorporated in a chip will approximately double every 24 months. For the most part, Moore was right. The smaller chip technology gets, the more that will fit in processors, and the smaller the technology gets. The proof is evident in mobile devices like laptops, smartphones and tablets that get smaller and perform more tasks.

Some say physics will end Moore's Law, while one expert says economics will. Director of the Microsystems Technology Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Robert Colwell, stated that companies will have to invest a lot of money in manufacturing plants, research and design to create something they don't know will generate profit, according to Cnet. Companies like Intel can afford to take such risks, and if it does, it paves the way for other companies to follow suit.

Colwell says if this happens, Moore's Law will end because companies will shift to the new technology and away from chip production. If demand for chips lessens, Moore's Law ends.

How CNTs Look

In addition to delivering and processing data at faster speeds, CNT technology has the potential to lessen energy consumption (and waste).

Types of Carbon Nanotubes

Image by Mstroeck via Wikimedia Commons


The smaller transistors are, the more can be placed on a single chip. Consequently, more energy is consumed and more heat is generated. Think of the typical laptop computer and tablet that generate heat as they run. A unit like a Lenovo IdeaPad with dual graphics ideal for gaming, for example, will run hotter than a model used for Internet browsing and email.

What's Next for Carbon Nanotubes
Should CNTs succeed, the technology must overcome two limitations:

Finding and correcting (or preventing) CNTs that do not grow in parallel lines
Preventing them from behaving like wires that generate electricity and more like semiconductors that can be switched on and off
Rather than looking for ways to prevent or correct imperfections in CNT circuits, the Stanford team developed a way to bypass imperfections in the CNT circuits, and they succeeded. An 'imperfection-immune design' technique enabled the CNT computer to succeed.

We'd like to hear your thoughts on the Stanford researchers' developments, and whether you think Moore's Law is ending and where CNT will take us. Leave your comments below.

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