IBM Is Using Tiny Tubes to Grow the Chips of the Future

The reign of silicon may be coming to an end.

For years, researchers and entrepreneurs hoped that carbon nanotubes would revolutionize microchip design. These tiny, molecular-level structures could, in theory, be used to make chips that are six to ten times faster than today’s silicon-based variety—and use far less electricity.

In addition to faster, more efficient chips for laptops and smartphones, tiny but powerful processors could enable new types of technology, such as bendable computers and injectable microchips, or nano-machines that could target cancers in the body.

Now a team of IBM researchers say they’ve made a breakthrough that brings the nano-dreams of the past closer to reality.

The problem with nanotubes has always been their size. By definition, nanomaterials are incredibly small, which makes them incredibly hard to work with. Traditionally chip makers take a piece of silicon and essentially carve it into what they want–not unlike the way sculptors take slabs of stone and chisel them into the shapes they want. Chiseling patterns into carbon nanotubes, however, has proven incredibly difficult.

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