“If you go to the nanoscale, objects do not behave as they do at the macroscale,” Nayak said. “Looking forward to the future of computers, it is essential that we solve problems with quantum mechanics to obtain the most complete, reliable data possible.”
The size of computer chips has shrunk dramatically over the past decade, but has recently hit a bottleneck, Nayak said. Interconnects, the tiny copper wires that transport electricity and information around the chip and to other chips, have also shrunk. As interconnects get smaller, the copper’s resistance increases and its ability to conduct electricity degrades. This means fewer electrons are able to pass through the copper successfully, and any lingering electrons are expressed as heat. This heat can have negative effects on both a computer chip’s speed and performance.
Researchers in both industry and academia are looking for alternative materials to replace copper as interconnects. Carbon nanotube bundles are a popular possible successor to copper, Nayak said, because of the material’s excellent conductivity and mechanical integrity. It is generally accepted that a quality replacement for copper must be discovered and perfected in the next five to 10 years in order to further perpetuate Moore’s Law – an industry mantra that states the number of transistors on a computer chip, and thus the chip’s speed, should double every 18-24 months.
Nayak said there are still many challenges to overcome before mass-produced carbon nanotube interconnects can be realized. There are still issues concerning the cost of efficiency of creating bulk carbon nanotubes, and growing nanotubes that are solely metallic rather than their current state being of partially metallic and partially semiconductor. More study will also be required, he said, to model and simulate the effects of imperfections in carbon nanotubes on the electrical resistance, contact resistance, capacitance, and other vital characteristics of a nanotube interconnect.
Rensselaer graduate student Yu Zhou and postdoctoral research assistant Subbalakshmi Sreekala are co-authors of the paper. Materials science and engineering professor Pulickel Ajayan, who is now at Rice University, is also a co-author.
Funding for this project was provided by the New York State Interconnect Focus Center.
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Tags: Nano or Nanotechnology and Nanotech or Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Carbon Nanotubes or Copper Nanowires