Tuesday, 25 August 2009
IBM research is looking to the building blocks of life -- DNA -- to become the structure of next-generation of microchips.
As chipmakers compete to develop ever-smaller chips at cheaper prices, designers are struggling to cut costs. Artificial DNA nanostructures, or "DNA origami" may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips, according to a paper published on Sunday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.
"This is the first demonstration of using biological molecules to help with processing in the semiconductor industry," says IBM research manager Spike Narayan.. "Basically, this is telling us that biological structures like DNA actually offer some very reproducible, repetitive kinds of patterns that we can actually leverage in semiconductor processes."
The research was a joint undertaking by IBM's Almaden Research Center and the California Institute of Technology. Right now, the tinier the chip, the more expensive the equipment. Narayan said that if the DNA origami process scales to production-level, manufacturers could trade hundreds of millions of dollars in complex tools for less than a million dollars of polymers, DNA solutions, and heating implements.
"The savings across many fronts could add up significantly," he said. But the new processes are at least 10 years out. Narayan said that while the DNA origami could allow chipmakers to build frameworks that are far smaller than possible with conventional tools, the technique still needs years of experimentation and testing.