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Carbon nanotube contacts take IBM beyond silicon processors
October 19, 2015, 1:35 pm

Researchers at IBM have developed a new way of creating contacts for carbon nanotubes by rolling nanoscale tubes from sheets of graphene that measure just one atom thick. IBM claims that it will open "a pathway to dramatically faster, smaller and more powerful computer chips beyond the capabilities of traditional semiconductors".

The new method for creating contacts for carbon nanotubes does not suffer from the problem of increased electrical resistance as the contact is reduced in size. Increased electrical resistance in a transistor results in performance reductions, meaning that, until now, smaller contacts would result in slower processors.

To overcome the problem, IBM developed an entirely new metallurgical process that chemically binds metal atoms to the carbon atoms at the end of the nanotubes. IBM said that this 'end-bonded contact scheme' allowed "the contacts to be shrunken down to below 10 nanometers without deteriorating performance of the carbon nanotube devices". This means we could see carbon nanotube processors "within the decade."

The problem with existing silicon-based transistors — the tiny switches that carry information on current computer chips — is that the material properties of silicon limit the degree to which transistors can be reduced in size. With silicon nearing its physical limits, companies such as IBM are investing in nanotube technology.

The properties of carbon nanotubes make them ideal for use in computing: they conduct electricity faster than silicon, use less power and, measuring just one nanometer thick, are much thinner than current silicon, which makes them less prone to unwanted electrostatic discharge. For reference, a nanometer is 100,000 times thinner than the width of a human hair.

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