The pursuit to produce smaller and smaller microchips for everything from automobile systems to mobile communications devices has led IBM to turn to one of the very building blocks of life for help with the process—DNA molecules.
With chip makers such as IBM and Intel aiming to shrink the manufacturing process to 22 nanometers and smaller, the push is on to develop ways to improve performance and energy efficiency. Scientists with IBM Research and the California Institute of Technology are working on ways to use DNA molecules as the basis for building tiny circuit boards. As shown in these images from IBM Research, the DNA can be put into various shapes and used as a sort of scaffolding, where millions of nanotubes can be deposited onto the sticky DNA and then self-assemble into the precise patterns.
All this makes DNA an ideal “scaffolding” that chip designers can use to create origami-like complex patterns on top of which they can add carbon nanotubes, nanowires, and other microscopic materials that control the flow of electronics across a computer chip.
“The cost involved in shrinking features to improve performance is a limiting factor in keeping pace with Moore’s Law and a concern across the semiconductor industry,” said Spike Narayan, Science & Technology manager at IBM’s Almaden research lab in San Jose, CA.
Moore’s Law holds that computing power at a given cost doubles every two years. Gains in chip speeds over the past two decades have largely been obtained by shrinking components. But with some parts now at microscopic levels, engineers are having an increasingly difficult time building on previous work.
Narayan said IBM and Caltech’s breakthrough in DNA-based chip design could help maintain Moore’s Law well into the future.
“The combination of this directed self-assembly with today’s fabrication technology could lead to substantial savings in the most expensive and challenging part of the chip-making process,” said Narayan.
IBM plans to publish a paper on the research in the September issue of Nature Nanotechnology.
IBM scientists say the DNA process can be used to increase performance, speed and energy efficiency in microchips, where feature sizes are 22 nm or smaller, and that these next-generation microprocessors can be less expensive to manufacture.