A team of University of California, Riverside researchers received $1.5 million from the Microelectronics Advanced Research Corporation (MARCO), a not-for-profit research management organization, to create a new generation of nanoscale materials and devices to make computers and other semiconductor-based devices faster, cheaper and more efficient.
The UCR team is working with UCLA’s Focus Center on Functional Engineered Nano Architectonics (FENA). UCR electrical engineering professor Roger Lake, who is leading the UCR team, says that sometime during the next decade silicon will reach the end of its ability to become smaller and faster, and there is now a huge effort underway to devise new materials.
“Silicon has been driving the semiconductor industry for 40 years, and for 40 years it has become exponentially smaller and faster,” Lake said. “Now people are looking real hard for add-ons to silicon.”
Something close, Lake says, are carbon nanotubes. “IBM has done a lot of work in that area,” Lake said. “They have built them individually and tested them, and they make pretty good transistors, but no one has a good idea of how to put a billion of them on a chip and have them all working together. The problem is one of integration.” He said if this problem is solved, it will set the direction of scientific research and commercial development for the next 50 years.
Recent studies using carbon nanotubes prove they can hold significantly more data than silicon chips. Products that could be improved using these materials include bomb and chemical detection devices and super high-speed computers. The work the researchers are doing could also lead to eventual production and packing improvements for relevant devices, possibly resulting in lower consumer costs. The UCR team is pursuing an approach of chemical and biological self-synthesis for molecular electronic integration using technology from biosensing and NEMS (nano electrical mechanical systems).
If the team can surmount current obstacles, Lake says, a new integration process will be born.