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Carbon nanotube breakthrough could extend Moore's Law

Posted: 05 Oct 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:IBM? Moore's Law? CMOS? EUV? carbon nanotube?

All things considered, IBM has revealed that if a breakthrough in its carbon nanotube transistors should come to happen, it could scale down the channel length to the 1.8nm node (four technology generations away) and beyond to the angstrom level eventually. If so, Moore's Law may now be extended to the sub-nm angstrom (1/10th of a nanometre) levels using the same extreme-ultraviolet (EUV) CMOS process technologies.

"The 1.2nm wide carbon nanotube channel is already proven," said Shu-Jen Han, IBM manager of nanoscale science and technology at its T.J. Watson Research Centre. "The major issue for scaling, not only for carbon nanotubes, but for silicon and III-V materials [indium, gallium, arsenide] is the contact, which is no longer scaling."

"With our recent breakthrough," said Han, "we now know how to scale [the contact] so it is no longer the limiting factor for carbon nanotube transistors. Our new contacts are measured in angstroms and have just just 36k of resistance, including both ends."

Roland Germann

The reflection of Roland Germann, manager, Nanotechnology Centre Operations at IBM Research-Zurich in the clean room. (Source: IBM, used with permission)

The breakthrough technique was a long time coming, but according to analyst Richard Doherty, research director at Envisioneering (Seaford, N.Y.), that was only to be expected.

"After all, if you remember that it took about a decade to go from point-contact transistors at Bell Labs to planar transistors at Fairchild and Intel, it's not surprising at all that it took IBM a decade too," Doherty stated.

Schematic showing the fabricated nanotube transistor

Schematic showing the fabricated nanotube transistor with an end-bonded contact and a contact length below 10nm. (Source: IBM Research, used with permission)

IBM's proof-of-concept chip has 9nm channels, but before the breakthrough the contacts were giant in comparison. Now IBM has found a way to make smaller contacts enabling them to scale down the channel length to the 1.8nm node (four technology generations away) and beyond to the angstrom level eventually. Each nanotube carries only about 15?A, but IBM plans to solve that problem by just using as many nanotube channels in parallel as required for the type of drive a transistor needs for a particular location in a design.

"We can place nanotubes in parallel with about an 8nm to 10nm pitch using self-aligning techniques," Han said. "We deposit them using a PVD [physical vapour deposition] process, then use high-temperature annealing, a metallurgical process akin to microscopic welding, to secure the channel contacts at each end."

TEM image showing the fabricated nanotube transistor

Cross-sectional transmission electron microscope (TEM) image showing the fabricated nanotube transistor with an end-bonded contact. (Source: IBM Research, used with permission)


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