Scientists have developed a way to manufacture a new breed of computer chips that use carbon nanotubes in the place of silicon.
Nanotubes have plenty of superior electronic properties over silicon, but until now it's been impossible to manufacture a chip with a high enough density of nanotubes to make an effective processing unit. Now, the researchers, from IBM, have cracked it.
Writing in Nature Nanomaterials, the researchers explain a new manufacturing technique that makes it possible to squeeze enough tubes on to the chip. It involves two solutions which work like a two-part epoxy: when they double-dip their chip substrate in the two, it enables them to create neatly aligned nanotube devices, with a density of a billion nanotubes per square centimetre.
While that sounds like a lot though, it's not quite enough for the ambitious team of scientists. James Hannon, one of the researchers, explained to the BBC:
"That's one nanotube every 150 or 200 (billionths of a meter) or so. That's not good enough to make a microprocessor yet - it's a factor of 10 away... But it's a factor of 100 better than has been done previously."
So, while they've managed a step change in their production technique, there's still some tweaking to be done. The team, however, predicts that if it can bump up its density, then it could produce processors three times faster than the current state-of-the-art, that consume a third of the power. Fingers crossed. [Nature Nanotechnology, BBC]