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Molecules line up to make the tiniest of wires

As technology gets smaller and smaller, the computer industry is facing the complex challenge of finding ways to manufacture the minuscule components necessary.

Computer chips are constantly getting smaller and smaller. Theres an unrelenting decrease in size. And the question arises, how do you wire these things in" said Dr. Jillian Buriak, University of Alberta professor and senior research officer at the National Institute for Nanotechnology. If youre going to make something on the order of 22 or even 18 nanometres, then youd better have a plug thats about that size, too.

A team of NINT researchers, headed by Buriak, has demonstrated an innovative technique for producing very small conductive nano-wires on silicon chips. The process can produce nano-wires that are 5,000 times longer than they are wide. The innovative technique for producing very small conductive nano-wires on silicon chips meets the need for connecting ever-smaller transistors and other electronic components.

You need very tiny wires to connect everything, said Buriak. Weve figured out a way to use molecules that will self-assemble to form the lines that can be used as wires. Then we use those molecules as templates and fill them up with metal, and then we have the wires that we want. You use the molecules to do the hard work for you.

In one example, 25 parallel platinum nano-wires were made using this self assembly process, with each wire measuring only 10 nm in width, but extending to a length of 50 microns.

While the idea of wires self-assembling sounds like something from science-fiction, its a natural process, says Buriak.

You are the product of self-assembly. The way DNA forms a double helix is self-assembly. Its just that molecules will recognize each other, bind to each other and then theyll form structures, she said. And the molecules were using are actually very simple. Theyre just polymers, just plastics that do that naturally.

While the new process could provide the solution for computer manufacturers looking for ways of increasing the speed and storage capacity of electronics, it could also mean cheaper electronics as well.

If you have to go and lithographically define one single wire, its going to be painstakingly hard and expensive, said Buriak. But, if you can have a cheap molecule do it for you, thats great, thats going to be much cheaper, use much less energy and be a little more environmentally friendly.

Contact: Ryan Smith
University of Alberta

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