IBM Makes Breakthrough in Carbon Nanotubes Fabrication Process

Silicon does not function at the nanoscale level. Since the discovery of nanotubes in 1991, researchers have work continuously to develop the material to build the microscopic processors needed for future applications. Nearly 10 years ago, IBM revealed to the world that it worked out a process for fabricating nanotubes.

Nanotubes consist of microscopic structures which has the ability to conduct electricity well. For nanotubes to become a viable alternative to silicon, at the time of the announcement, IBM shared a vision of someday squeezing billions of these tiny transistors onto a single chip.

As reported in Nature Nanotechnology several days ago, scientists at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., announced an exciting breakthrough that brings carbon nanotubes closer to surpassing silicon, as microprocessors get smaller with faster clock speed. This combination reduces the number of transistors required for processors.

In a press release, the chief scientist of IBM’s Research physical sciences division, Supratik Guha stated that carbon nanotubes had “been laboratory curiosities as far as microelectronic applications are concerned.”

Guha identify the findings as constituting the first significant steps toward fabricating manufacturing nanotube transistors using standard wafer manufacturing structure.

Nanotube Fabrication

The nanotube fabrication process requires manufacturers to heat silicon to a temperature of 1,650 degrees centigrade. Once the silicon evaporates, it leaves an exposed layer of carbon, which previously bonded to the silicon.  This procedure frees up the layer of carbon atoms to bond with another substance. In the case of nanotubes, the carbon bonds with itself as it curl up and create a cylindrical shape.

The process, which researchers refer to as “chemical self-assembly,” employs a surfactant or soap-like solution that makes the material water-soluble. The solubility enables researchers to produce an array of tiny rectangular patterns. The arrangement increases the density of the transistors 100 times, compared to earlier techniques.

Nanotubes Superior to Other Substances

Nanoscale transistors are more efficient than transistors made from other materials. Scientist continues their efforts to produce ultra-pure carbon nanotubes–99.999 purity, and develop methods for the calculated placement of structures and devices at the nanoscale level.

Last year, IBM made a significant breakthrough when it demonstrated the technology to create high-performance, sub-10nm channel lengths carbon annotate transistors.

At the sub-10nm level silicon chips lose its viability. Based on the new findings, researchers have graduated from the ability to place about 100 transistors on a microchip to 10,000.  The goal is to increase this number to more than 1 billion transistors on a single chip.

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