IBM researchers are turning to DNA to create even smaller and more powerful computer chips.
IBM announced Aug. 17 that its scientists, teaming with others at the California Institute of Technology, are working on ways in which DNA molecules can be used to create a scaffolding onto which tiny circuits can be built.
The millions of carbon nanotubes could be put onto the scaffolding and then would self-assemble into precise patterns by sticking to the DNA molecules. Those nanotubes would form the basis for transistors in processors.
The announcement comes as the semiconductor industry-including IBM and Intel-looks for ways to continue shrinking processors beyond the 22-nanometer limit, and the new advancements by IBM and CalTech hold the promise of enabling the companies to put more power and speed into smaller packages. These chips also will be more energy-efficient and less expensive to manufacture than current offerings, according to IBM.
Currently, chip makers are using 45-nm manufacturing processes and are moving toward 32 nm. As the trend moves to 22 nm and smaller, the challenges of performance, speed, energy efficiency and cost grow along with the technological challenges.
"The cost involved in shrinking features to improve performance is a limiting factor in keeping pace with Moore's Law and a concern across the semiconductor industry," Spike Narayan, manager of IBM Research's Science and Technology business, said in a statement. "The combination of this directed self-assembly with today's fabrication technology eventually could lead to substantial savings in the most expensive and challenging part of the chip-making process."
CalTech had developed the ability to have single DNA molecules self-assemble in response to a reaction between a long single strand of viral DNA and a concoction of short synthetic oligoneculeotide strands. The shorter segments fold the DNA into the desired shape, and can be modified to act as places for nanoscale components to attach, according to IBM Research.
Through this method, the nanostructures can be put into such shapes as squares, rectangles and triangles.
IBM and CalTech researchers will be publishing a paper on their work in the September issue of Nature Nanotechnology. The paper currently can be seen here.