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Surprising Science

Look Out, Silicon: This Computer Uses Carbon Nanotubes

Granted, it’s simple and extremely slow compared to its silicon-based counterparts, but its existence marks a major step in the quest towards making ever faster and more efficient computers.

What’s the Latest Development?

After months of careful work, starting with making individual transistors from carbon nanotubes and connecting them to create simple circuits, a team of Stanford researchers has succeeded in building an extremely slow but functional computer from 142 low-power carbon transistors. At one micron each, they are huge compared to their silicon counterparts, but together, given enough time, they can perform any computation. Currently, says team co-leader H.S. Philip Wong, “[i]t can run two programs concurrently, a counting program and a sorting program.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Although silicon transistors are decreasing in size every two years or so, allowing for faster, cheaper, and more powerful computers, experts predict that by 2020 they will reach a physical scaledown limit of five nanometers. Carbon nanotubes could either form their replacements or be used in hybrid chips that could keep silicon in the computing game a little longer. Due to the precision needed for semiconductor manufacturing, Stanford’s discovery will require at least three more years of research before it hits the market.

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Read it at The New York Times


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