20 May 2002 IBM researchers are claiming that carbon nanotubes – long, thin strands of carbon molecules – have the potential to outperform silicon when used in integrated circuits, according to a paper to be published today in the US journal, Applied Physics Letters.
In the paper, the researchers outline how, in IBM laboratories, transistors made of carbon nanotubes were able to deliver more than twice the amount of electrical current at a faster rate than the most advanced silicon-based chips available today.
Nanotechnology – the science of molecular-level engineering – is an increasingly important area of research in information technology. Scientists at both IBM and Hewlett-Packard are experimenting with nanotechnology to build microscopic circuits, which they hope will eventually lead to the development of tiny computing devices – although this could be 20 or more years away. Carbon nanotubes are very strong, highly conductive and so thin that 50,000 of them bundled would fit in the cylindrical dimensions of a single strand of human hair.
However, questions remain over how carbon nanotubes will be used in computing devices. For example, researchers recently identified a type of ‘energy barrier’ that occurs with carbon nanotubes that does not effect silicon transistors.
Creating carbon nanotubes is also a complex, intensive process. Nevertheless, IBM researchers claim that carbon nanotubes may provide an answer if traditional methods of designing and making chips become economically untenable in 15 to 20 years’ time.