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IBM paves way for post-silicon future, announces carbon nanotube breakthrough

Company says advancement could replace silicon transistors in electronics

YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y.—IBM Research has announced a major engineering breakthrough the company said could accelerate carbon nanotubes replacing silicon transistors in future computing technologies.

“IBM scientists [have] demonstrated a new way to shrink transistor contacts without reducing performance of carbon nanotube devices, opening a pathway to dramatically faster, smaller and more powerful computer chips beyond the capabilities of traditional semiconductors,” the company said.

IBM said the breakthrough jumps a major obstacle silicon and semiconductor technologies face when scaling down.

“In any transistor, two things scale: the channel and its two contacts. As devices become smaller, increased contact resistance for carbon nanotubes has hindered performance gains until now. These results could overcome contact resistance challenges all the way to the 1.8 nanometer node – four technology generations away,” IBM said.

Employing carbon nanotube chips, state-of-the-art computers could perform faster, allowing Big Data to be analyzer quicker using less power. The transition could also increase battery life in mobile devices, enhance the Internet of Things and allow cloud data centres to perform more economically.

The shift toward carbon has accelerated in recent years as silicon transistors approach the point at which they cannot get any smaller.

“IBM has previously shown that carbon nanotube transistors can operate as excellent switches at channel dimensions of less than ten nanometers – the equivalent to 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair and less than half the size of today’s leading silicon technology,” the company said. “IBM’s new contact approach overcomes the other major hurdle in incorporating carbon nanotubes into semiconductor devices, which could result in smaller chips with greater performance and lower power consumption.”

The company hopes the step forward will allow it to develop a marketable carbon nanotube technology within a decade.

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