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Nanotechnology

Carbon nanotube microchips

For a long time, advances in electronics have depended on making silicon transistors smaller. Now they have reached the minimum physical limit, we face a problem. Below a certain size, the electrical current can leak from the metal channels that carry it over the surface of the transistors, reducing the energy efficiency of the semiconductors and causing failures. Researchers from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have overcome this problem by creating a 16-byte microprocessor from circuits made of 14,000 carbon nanotubes: hollow carbon cylinders whose walls are just one atom thick. The nanotubes are very strong. Under certain conditions, they conduct electricity; in others, they function as an electrical insulator. The new chip, named RV16X-Nano, proved itself capable of running modern software, and could offer an alternative to silicon microprocessors (Nature, August 29). As well as being faster, it appears to consume as much as 10 times less power, which reduces the number of recharges needed and extends the battery life of devices equipped with the chip. The new microprocessor is made using the same manufacturing methods as conventional silicon chips, which could facilitate commercial production in the coming years.

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