Stanford Report, September 26, 2013
A first: Stanford engineers build basic computer using carbon nanotubes Unprecedented feat points toward a new generation of energy-efficient electronics.
By Tom Abate
Norbert von der Groeben This wafer contains tiny computers using carbon nanotubes, a material that could lead to smaller, more energy-efficient processors.
A team of Stanford engineers has built a basic computer using carbon nanotubes, a semiconductor material that has the potential to launch a new generation of electronic devices that run faster, while using less energy, than those made from silicon chips.
This unprecedented feat culminates years of efforts by scientists around the world to harness this promising but quirky material.
The achievement is reported today in an article on the cover of the journal Nature written by Max Shulaker and other doctoral students in electrical engineering. The research was led by Stanford professors Subhasish Mitra and H.-S. Philip Wong.
"People have been talking about a new era of carbon nanotube electronics moving beyond silicon," said Mitra, an electrical engineer and computer scientist. "But there have been few demonstrations of complete digital systems using this exciting technology. Here is the proof."
Experts say the Stanford achievement will galvanize efforts to find successors to silicon chips, which could soon encounter physical limits that might prevent them from delivering smaller, faster, cheaper electronic devices.
"Carbon nanotubes [CNTs] have long been considered as a potential successor to the silicon transistor," said Professor Jan Rabaey, a world expert on electronic circuits and systems at the University of California-Berkeley.
But until now it hasn't been clear that CNTs could fulfill those expectations.
"There is no question that this will get the attention of researchers in the semiconductor community and entice them to explore how this technology can lead to smaller, more energy-efficient processors in the next decade," Rabaey said.
Mihail Roco, a senior advisor for nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation, called the Stanford work "an important scientific breakthrough."