In a 1965 paper, Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore predicted that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit would double approximately every two years. This prediction has proven to be uncannily accurate over the years and has come to be known as Moore’s Law. But it’s not going to hold true forever, is it? Well, it’s believed that like all things good, Moore’s Law too will come to an end one day. The question that remains, though, is when. Noted theoretical (and often theatrical) physicist Michio Kaku feels he has the answer.
You know that game that mimes play, where they mimic your every action, pretending to be a mirror? Well, if we’re ever going to get down and dirty with some true quantum computing, scientists are probably going to have to teach photons to pull mime impressions en mass. A complex process called quantum entanglement makes it so any changes that happen to one particle happens to others as well; harnessing that power is the theoretical key to quantum computing. Now, researchers from the University of Bristol have created the world’s first fully programmable photon-entangling silica chip, which could be a major step towards true quantum processing.
Intel generated a lot of press with the unveiling of their 3D, low-power Tri-Gate transistor technology. Now it's IBM’s turn to hop into the 3D waters. Today, the company announced that it’s entered into a joint partnership with 3M to develop 3D semiconductors. They’re going about things a little bit differently than Intel, though; rather than developing chips with raised elements, IBM and 3M want to create “bricks” out of up to 100 separate silicon chips in a process known as “3D packaging.”
Electron have done a great job ferrying our data. But electronic signals are no longer the answer for humanity's constant craving for greater data speeds. The world is a step closer to replacing electronic signals with light beams for data links in and around computers, thanks to a breakthrough at Intel Labs. The Santa Clara chip maker has designed the world's first silicon-based optical data link, which is capable of moving data at 50 gigabits per second (Gbps) over long distances and promises tera-scale data rates in the future.
“Today computer components are connected to each other using copper cables or traces on circuit boards. Due to the signal degradation that comes with using metals such as copper to transmit data, these cables have a limited maximum length. This limits the design of computers, forcing processors, memory and other components to be placed just inches from each other,” Intel said in a press release. But the chip maker expects the Silicon Photonics Link to effect a revolution in computer design, with its impact reverberating throughout the computer industry – from data centers to consumer electronics.
Intel's latest effort should not be confused with its Light Peak technology, which is meant as “a multi-protocol 10Gbps optical connection” to supplant existing computer bus technologies like USB, FireWire, HDMI and SATA.
Researchers at Georgia Institute of technology have devised a new "bottom-up" self-assembly technique to overcome technical difficulties that had rendered more efficient silicon-based anodes impractical. The current crop of batteries only feature anodes made from graphite.
But the new technique uses “nanotechnology to fine-tune its materials properties,” allowing silicon-based anodes to be more stable inside the battery, and thereby paving the way for “a ten-fold capacity improvement over graphite.” Not only will the new technique improve the storage capacity of Li-ion batteries manifold, but such batteries will also last much longer.
"Development of a novel approach to producing hierarchical anode or cathode particles with controlled properties opens the door to many new directions for lithium-ion battery technology," said Gleb Yushin, an assistant professor in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "This is a significant step toward commercial production of silicon-based anode materials for lithium-ion batteries."
File this one away for the future: graphene transistors. Graphene makes use of carborn rather than silicon, and transistors produced from it are capable of operating at 100 gigahertz, or about ten times faster than the fastest silicon transistors. And IBM has figured out a way to make production of these little beauties commercially feasible.
Graphene transistors aren’t new. But the methods for making them are clumsy and inefficient. For example, sheets of graphene would be flaked away from graphite--a tricky process at best. And it could only produce transistors with speeds up to 26 gigahertz.
IBM has devised a method for ‘growing’ graphene transistors on the surface of a two-inch silicon carbide wafer. The wafter is heated until the silicon evaporates, leaving behind a thin layer of epitaxial graphene, from which a transistor is produced. In addition, IBM improved the process by using better materials for parts of the transistor, such as the insulator.
Speedier transistors translate into speedier computing. Graphene transistors, therefore, hold promise for bumping up hardware potential on motherboards and add-in cards. (Not CPUs, though--graphene won’t work for CPUs.) While things will get speedier, for us it won’t be right away. Projected first applications will be in military devices. After that, maybe, graphene transistors will work their way into consumer electronics.
Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have created a method to calculate how different degrees of strain affect electronic structures in silicon. Sound confusing? Well, truthfully it is, but it could soon bring you new CPUs that produce much less heat and use less power.
Today’s strained silicon is very limited. This is mostly caused by the techniques that are in place to create it, and the physics of strain (which still haven’t been fully mapped out). But, thanks to a team of dedicated researchers led by Max Lagally, the Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at UW-M, this is all about to change.
The creation process, which previously didn’t always provide a uniform stretch of the silicon across the surface of the chip, has been drastically changed thanks to the research of Legally’s team. Having mapped out the effects of strain on electric structures in silicon, they finally understand why there are drastic increases and decreases in electron mobility from sheet to sheet. This will allow them a more uniform creation process that will produce more predictable results.
To produce their samples they stretched out films of silicon for research. “Imagine [attaching] a ring and a hook to all four corners [of a piece of thin film silicon] and pulling equally on all four corners like a trampoline,” said Legally, “it stretches out like that.”
Should this research come full circle, there’s no doubt that we’ll all reap the rewards.
Thermoelectric materials are common, but they’re not used as often as one would expect. This is because these materials have either been inefficient, expensive, or both. Several groups of researchers have been looking to correct this, and solve the mysteries that have been surrounding these compounds with a goal of bringing them to the world.
Mildred S. Dresselhaus is one of those looking to change the face of thermoelectric compounds. Working with her team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology she’s looking to create more efficient materials by manufacturing tiny particles or wires into them to disrupt the flow of head. These particles and wires would make the materials that are already great conductors much more competent at dispersing heat.
Professor Peidong Yang’s team at the University of California at Berkely is searching for entirely new materials. While silicon isn’t a great thermoelectric material, once you look at it in nanoscale, things change. Silicon nanowires have been shown to be one hundred times more efficient at conserving energy than bulk silicon.
Where things really start to get interesting are at the University of Århus, Risø-DTU (say that three times fast) and the University of Copenhagen where they’ve unlocked a secret of certain thermoelectric compounds which might potentially help in developing more efficient materials.
There are several other teams working on pushing the technology of thermoelectric based compounds, and they’re looking to implement them in a multitude of places, including your PC.