The technologies in this area are at the forefront of nanotechnology’s commercialisation. Nanotechnology has the potential for smaller and faster computers with larger memories than current processes of making transistors and other components permit. These will reach their limits in miniaturisation within the next decade or two, creating the demand for new methods of manufacturing, nanotechnology being one of them. Techniques such as soft lithography and bottom-up approaches to forming nanoscale components by self-assembly could produce cheap and effective microscale circuits.
Molecular Electronics and Components
Molecular electronics, with molecular switches and circuits only a few atoms wide, offers the possibility of using molecular components in electronic devices, greatly reducing their size, although there are many practical issues to be addressed before this technique can be fully developed. However, new defect tolerant architectures for computing make highly integrated molecular electronics a possibility.
Carbon Nanotubes, Scanning Probe Microscopes (SPMs) and Atomic Force Microscopes (AFMs) in IT
Carbon nanotubes are also likely to be used in IT. These tubes can be either conducting or semiconducting and have the potential for memory and storage as well. Other options for data storage include the use of SPMs (scanning probe microscopes) as a tool for information transfer. This is exemplified by the IBM ‘millipede’ system, which employs an array of AFMs (atomic force microscopes) tips to make indentations in a polymer and then read them, much in the same way as a laser reads a CD but at a considerably smaller size scale and with a much higher density of information.
Carbon Nanotubes in Display Devices
Nanotechnology also has prospective applications for display devices, such as the replacement of cathode ray tube (CRT) technology by electron-producing carbon nanotubes. The timing of these applications is uncertain, but nanotechnology is already contributing to increased data storage capacity and processing speeds.