Rice, NCSU discovery could allow faster, smaller chips

— 1:54 PM on July 23, 2009

Rice University and North Carolina State Universy scientists have developed a new semiconductor manufacturing technique that, according to them, could let firms like Intel "reach beyond the current limits of Moore's Law as they make microprocessors both smaller and more powerful."

The discovery essentially provides an avenue to circumvent the limits of doping—the act of introducing impurities into silicon. Rice Professor James Tour explains, "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."

So, what's the solution?

The paper suggests that monolayer molecular grafting -- basically, attaching molecules to the surface of the silicon rather than mixing them in -- essentially serves the same function as doping, but works better at the nanometer scale. "We call it silicon with afterburners," Tour said. "We're putting an even layer of molecules on the surface. These are not doping in the same way traditional dopants do, but they're effectively doing the same thing."

Tour goes on to say, "This gives the Intels and the Microns and the Samsungs of the world another tool to try, and I guarantee you they'll be trying this." You can check out the paper for yourself by hitting the American Chemical Society website, although if you're not already registered, then you'll have to pay up for the privilege.

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