Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Stanford engineers perfecting carbon nanotubes for highly energy-efficient computing

15.06.2012
Carbon nanotubes represent a significant departure from traditional silicon technologies and offer a promising path to solving the challenge of energy efficiency in computer circuits, but they aren't without challenges. Now, engineers at Stanford have found ways around the challenges to produce the first full-wafer digital logic structures based on carbon nanotubes.
Energy efficiency is the most significant challenge standing in the way of continued miniaturization of electronic systems, and miniaturization is the principal driver of the semiconductor industry. “As we approach the ultimate limits of Moore’s Law, however, silicon will have to be replaced in order to miniaturize further,” said Jeffrey Bokor, deputy director for science at the Molecular Foundry at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Professor at UC-Berkeley.

To this end, carbon nanotubes (CNTs) are a significant departure from traditional silicon technologies and a very promising path to solving the challenge of energy efficiency. CNTs are cylindrical nanostructures of carbon with exceptional electrical, thermal and mechanical properties. Nanotube circuits could provide a ten-times improvement in energy efficiency over silicon.

Early promise

When the first rudimentary nanotube transistors were demonstrated in 1998, researchers imagined a new age of highly efficient, advanced computing electronics. That promise, however, is yet to be realized due to substantial material imperfections inherent to nanotubes that left engineers wondering whether CNTs would ever prove viable.

Over the last few years, a team of Stanford engineering professors, doctoral students, undergraduates, and high-school interns, led by Professors Subhasish Mitra and H.-S. Philip Wong, took on the challenge and has produced a series of breakthroughs that represent the most advanced computing and storage elements yet created using CNTs.

These high-quality, robust nanotube circuits are immune to the stubborn and crippling material flaws that have stumped researchers for over a decade, a difficult hurdle that has prevented the wider adoption of nanotube circuits in industry. The advance represents a major milestone toward Very-large Scale Integrated (VLSI) systems based on nanotubes.
“The first CNTs wowed the research community with their exceptional electrical, thermal and mechanical properties over a decade ago, but this recent work at Stanford has provided the first glimpse of their viability to complement silicon CMOS transistors,” said Larry Pileggi, Tanoto Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Focus Center Research Program Center for Circuit and System Solutions.

Major barriers

While there have been significant accomplishments in CNT circuits over the years, they have come mostly at the single-nanotube level. At least two major barriers remain before CNTs can be harnessed into technologies of practical impact: First, “perfect” alignment of nanotubes has proved all but impossible to achieve, introducing detrimental stray conducting paths and faulty functionality into the circuits; second, the presence of metallic CNTs (as opposed to more desirable semiconducting CNTs) in the circuits leads to short circuits, excessive power leakage and susceptibility to noise. No CNT synthesis technique has yet produced exclusively semiconducting nanotubes.

"Carbon nanotube transistors are attractive for many reasons as a basis for dense, energy efficient integrated circuits in the future. But, being borne out of chemistry, they come with unique challenges as we try to adapt them into microelectronics for the first time. Chief among them is variability in their placement and their electrical properties. The Stanford work, that looks at designing circuits taking into consideration such variability, is therefore an extremely important step in the right direction," Supratik Guha, Director of the Physical Sciences Department at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center .

“This is very interesting and creative work. While there are many difficult challenges ahead, the work of Wong and Mitra makes good progress at solving some of these challenges,” added Bokor.

Realizing that better processes alone will never overcome these imperfections, the Stanford engineers managed to circumvent the barriers using a unique imperfection-immune design paradigm to produce the first-ever full-wafer-scale digital logic structures that are unaffected by misaligned and mis-positioned CNTs. Additionally, they addressed the challenges of metallic CNTs with the invention of a technique to remove these undesirable elements from their circuits.

Engineers from Stanford and the University of Southern California have found a way to design circuits containing carbon nanotubes that should work even when many of the nanotubes are twisted or misaligned. Photo: Subhasish Mitra, Stanford University School of Engineering

Striking features

The Stanford design approach has two striking features in that it sacrifices virtually none of CNTs’ energy efficiency and it is also compatible with existing fabrication methods and infrastructure, pushing the technology a significant step toward commercialization.

“This transformative research is made all the more promising by the fact that it can co-exist with today’s mainstream silicon technologies, and leverage today’s manufacturing and system design infrastructure, providing the critical feature of economic viability,” said Betsy Weitzman of the Focus Center Research Program at the Semiconductor Research Corporation

The engineers next demonstrated the possibilities of their techniques by creating the essential components of digital integrated systems: arithmetic circuits and sequential storage, as well as the first monolithic three-dimensional integrated circuits with extreme levels of integration.

Stanford researchers, including undergraduates, in their “bunny suits” at the NSF-funded Stanford Nanofabrication facility. Photo: Subhasish Mitra, Stanford School of Engineering

The Stanford team’s work was featured recently as an invited paper at the prestigious International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) as well as a “keynote paper” in the prestigious IEEE Transactions on Computer-Aided Design of Integrated Circuits and Systems.

“Many researchers assumed that the way to live with imperfections in CNT manufacturing was through expensive fault-tolerance techniques. Through clever insights, Mitra and Wong have shown otherwise. Their inexpensive and practical methods can significantly improve CNT circuit robustness, and go a long way toward making CNT circuits viable,” said Sachin S. Sapatnekar, Editor-in-Chief, IEEE Transactions on CAD. “I anticipate high reader interest in the paper,” Sapatnekar noted.

Andrew Myers is associate director for communications for the Stanford University School of Engineering.

Editor's Note: This article first appeared as a "Behind the Scenes" feature on LiveScience in partnership with the National Science Foundation. The researchers depicted in Behind the Scenes have been supported by the National Science Foundation, the federal agency charged with funding basic research and education across all fields of science and engineering. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

Andrew Myers | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.stanford.edu
http://engineering.stanford.edu/news/stanford-engineers-perfecting-carbon-nanotubes-high-energy-efficient-computing

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history
26.04.2017 | Southwest Research Institute

nachricht New survey hints at exotic origin for the Cold Spot
26.04.2017 | Royal Astronomical Society

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Making lightweight construction suitable for series production

More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.

Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...

Im Focus: Wonder material? Novel nanotube structure strengthens thin films for flexible electronics

Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.

"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...

Im Focus: Deep inside Galaxy M87

The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.

Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...

Im Focus: A Quantum Low Pass for Photons

Physicists in Garching observe novel quantum effect that limits the number of emitted photons.

The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...

Im Focus: Microprocessors based on a layer of just three atoms

Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.

Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Expert meeting “Health Business Connect” will connect international medical technology companies

20.04.2017 | Event News

Wenn der Computer das Gehirn austrickst

18.04.2017 | Event News

7th International Conference on Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaics in Freiburg on April 3-5, 2017

03.04.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientist invents way to trigger artificial photosynthesis to clean air

26.04.2017 | Materials Sciences

Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli

26.04.2017 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

SwRI-led team discovers lull in Mars' giant impact history

26.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>