Designing the Next Wave of Computer Chips (Published 2014) – The New York Times

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PALO ALTO, Calif. — Not long after Gordon E. Moore proposed in 1965 that the number of transistors that could be etched on a silicon chip would continue to double approximately every 18 months, critics began predicting that the era of “Moore’s Law” would draw to a close.
More than ever recently, industry pundits have been warning that the progress of the semiconductor industry is grinding to a halt — and that the theory of Dr. Moore, an Intel co-founder, has run its course.
If so, that will have a dramatic impact on the computer world. The innovation that has led to personal computers, music players and smartphones is directly related to the plunging cost of transistors, which are now braided by the billions onto fingernail slivers of silicon — computer chips — that may sell for as little as a few dollars each.
But Moore’s Law is not dead; it is just evolving, according to more optimistic scientists and engineers. Their contention is that it will be possible to create circuits that are closer to the scale of individual molecules by using a new class of nanomaterials — metals, ceramics, polymeric or composite materials that can be organized from the “bottom up,” rather than the top down.
For instance, semiconductor designers are developing chemical processes that can make it possible to “self assemble” circuits by causing the materials to form patterns of ultrathin wires on a semiconductor wafer. Combining these patterns of nanowires with conventional chip-making techniques, the scientists believe, will lead to a new class of computer chips, keeping Moore’s Law alive while reducing the cost of making chips in the future.
“The key is self assembly,” said Chandrasekhar Narayan, director of science and technology at IBM’s Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif. “You use the forces of nature to do your work for you. Brute force doesn’t work any more; you have to work with nature and let things happen by themselves.”
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