Scientists at Rice University and North Carolina State University have found a method of attaching molecules to semiconducting silicon that may help manufacturers reach beyond the current limits of Moore's Law as they make microprocessors both smaller and more powerful.
Their findings are published this month by the Journal of the American Chemical Society.
Moore's Law, suggested by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, said the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles about every two years. But even Moore has said the law cannot be sustained indefinitely.
The challenge is to get past the limits of doping, a process that has been essential to creating the silicon substrate that is at the heart of all modern integrated circuits, said James Tour, Rice's Chao Professor of Chemistry and professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and of computer science.
Doping introduces impurities into pure crystalline silicon as a way of tuning microscopic circuits to a particular need, and it's been effective so far even in concentrations as small as one atom of boron, arsenic or phosphorus per 100 million of silicon. But as manufacturers pack more transistors onto integrated circuits by making the circuits ever smaller, doping gets problematic.
"When silicon gets really small, down to the nanoscale, you get structures that essentially have very little volume," Tour said. "You have to put dopant atoms in silicon for it to work as a semiconductor, but now, devices are so small you get inhomogeneities. You may have a few more dopant atoms in this device than in that one, so the irregularities between them become profound."
Manufacturers who put billions of devices on a single chip need them all to work the same way, but that becomes more difficult with the size of a state-of-the-art circuit at 45 nanometers wide -- a human hair is about 100,000 nanometers wide -- and
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