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Thursday, 8 December 2011

In race to replace silicon chips, engineers eying nanotechnology

Dec 7, 2011

In their never ending pursuit of designing faster circuit boards, electrical engineers are developing what could become the basis for computers and other consumer products.

Stanford University electrical engineering graduate student Max Shulaker spends much of his free time in laboratories, producing the smallest computer circuits in the world. His dedication to his craft is evident, as Shulaker performs the entire process by hand, The New York Times reports.

Shulaker and his colleagues at the California engineering and science powerhouse are working on a system they hope will one day be installed in the world's fastest supercomputers. The custom manufacturing process is demanding and tedious, but if successful it could help significantly increase computers' processing speed.

Researchers across the world are working on similar designs, as they endeavor to overcome the constraints on chip speed. Moore's Law, posited by Intel cofounder Gordon Moore, states that the number of transistors incorporated in a chip will roughly double every 24 months. The principle has held true for more than four decades, but technology is approaching atomic dimensions, and engineers are facing substantial hurdles on the path toward improved functionality, speed and efficiency.

Intel researchers successfully created a 3-D chip this year that features a microscopic plane that juts out from the base of the silicon surface, allowing for the placement of billions of tiny switches on a microprocessor. However, some electrical engineers argued the setup is not optimal, and that an improved technique could result in not only additional switches, but also enhanced functionality.
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