Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Science

Scientists Build Computer Using Carbon Nanotubes 104

Posted by Soulskill
from the can-i-play-quake-3-on-it-yet dept.
trendspotter writes "Future computers could run on lab-grown circuits that are thousands of times thinner than a human hair and operate on a fraction of the energy required to power today's silicon-based computer chips, extending 'Moore's Law' for years to come. Stanford engineers' very basic computer device using carbon nanotube technology validates carbon nanotubes as potential successors to today's silicon semiconductors. The achievement is reported today in an article on the cover of Nature magazine 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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Scientists Build Computer Using Carbon Nanotubes

Comments Filter:
  • by Kasamir (1792648) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @05:28PM (#44953407)
    Hasn't this been done before?
    • Yes, Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) called it a while back.
    • by slick7 (1703596)

      Hasn't this been done before?

      I thought tubes were old hat and solid state was state of the art?

      • by rubycodez (864176)

        /me checks inside microwave oven.

        nope, we still use tubes.

        • by MightyYar (622222)

          True for now, but Midea apparently makes a 600 watt solid state microwave now. Amazing how powerful the solid state stuff has gotten.

          • by rubycodez (864176)

            they will make, haven't seen them sold yet, just demo'd. bet it won't compete well with the $40 magnetron oven we can buy now

            • by MightyYar (622222)

              Yes, quite expensive, I'd wager! They seemed to think that it would fill a niche market where magnetron ovens are too heavy, bulky, or delicate. Think mobile homes or airplanes. Or New York apartments :)

    • How do you create a CPU from 178 transistors? I'm shocked how low that number is. Is there a template for this? they said it could run MIPS. I've built a CPU out of Nand gates but it took more than 178, so I'm really intrigued.

      I also got a laugh about the technique they used to find the metallic nanotubes. they over volted the circuit with the good tubes turned off. In the olden days when we wanted to debug the wiring on a wire wrap board the standard procedure was to take a fillament transformer and

  • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @05:32PM (#44953481)

    Making a claim like "one day a computer will be thinner than a human hair!!! OMG it'll be great!!!" will just make you sound like an idiot sooner than you think. Lots of the quotes about computers fitting in single rooms and doing thousands of calculations are just like this.

    • by houstonbofh (602064) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @05:38PM (#44953549)
      I am just glad that we can still use Mores law to accommodate sloppy and bloated programming for a while longer. The thought that programming might have to become efficient filled me with dread!
      • by RamiKro (3019255)

        Computation speed doesn't mean memory size. It's quite possible compiled and yet garbage collected languages could be made to be as computationally efficient as C while possibly having a slightly bigger RAM footprint. So, you'd still want to avoid VMs and interpreters to save up on the CPU time, but no one would worry too much about binary sizes or garbage collection.
        You'd still need to be precise and not leaking of course... But that just means the people writing the compiler should know what they're doing

        • by Anonymous Coward

          I don't know what that has to do with what the GP said, but it's entirely possible that memristors or RTM will replace DRAM in future, both of which consume no power in idle state, while matching DRAM in bandwidth and access latency, and potentially greatly exceeding Flash and DRAM in storage density.

          If that comes to pass, then the way we write software ought to change to make use of massive and essentially free LUTs to replace many computational tasks. Also ideas like separate namespaces for memory and fil

      • I am just glad that we can still use Mores law to accommodate sloppy and bloated programming for a while longer. The thought that programming might have to become efficient filled me with dread!

        That's why we must insist on x86 compatible instruction sets. That way we always have a bit of microcode cruft we can optimize away in a pinch.

  • by istartedi (132515) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @05:36PM (#44953533) Journal

    The most interesting thing about these alternative transistors might be environmental impact. I'm under the impression that traditional wafer fab is water intensive and heats and/or pollutes water. There are dangerous things such as arsenic and bromine involved. If the carbon nano-tube process is clean that'd be awesome. It would be great to think that we could dispose of obsolete technology by incinerating it, and not release anything other than CO2 into the air, leaving behind slag that's full of recyclable silver and copper.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      You're aware that carbon nanotubes are asbestos like and highly carcinogenic. Now you've got a horrific e-waste problem.

      http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=carbon-nanotube-danger

      • You're aware that carbon nanotubes are asbestos like and highly carcinogenic. Now you've got a horrific e-waste problem.

        I'd assume that the amount of nanotubes for even a large chip would be quite small, and that they are easily destroyed in a plasma arc.

      • by cusco (717999)

        Horrific? Please.

        Asbestos was a problem because it was ubiquitous. Houses were sided with it, attics were insulated with it, pipes were wrapped in it, entire skyscrapers were fireproofed with it, electric motors were covered with it, car firewalls were built of it. CPUs and RAM? Don't see an issue.

    • by Goldsmith (561202)

      Making nanotube transistors in the method specified is just as environmentally risky as silicon, if not more so, as it requires two silicon wafers to produce one wafer of electronics.

    • It doesn't harm the water, but requires you to club a baby seal per megaflop.
  • I knew my old tube set would be back in style again!
  • Moore's Law (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @05:45PM (#44953647) Homepage Journal

    I can't remember the book I read this in, but it posited that if you remove the silicon part of Moore's Law and you just talk about computing power and cost and the like that you can make a case that it has been in place throughout human history. In other words computing power has always been doubling, it just started by drawing numbers in the dirt, went to the abacus, etc.. etc... until we reached the silicon age and integrated circuits.

    The hand wringing that the idea behind Moore's Law will ever end is just silly. When we reach the limits of silicon chips some other technology will take its place. This is just how human technology works.

    • Re:Moore's Law (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @06:06PM (#44953833)

      It will have to end at some point, we can't build things smaller than the smallest physical unit in existence.

      • by rolfwind (528248)

        It will have to end at some point, we can't build things smaller than the smallest physical unit in existence.

        Yes, but the question is "What is the smallest unit in existence?" Will it be atoms? Quarks? Something even smaller we have not even theorized yet?

      • by tmosley (996283)
        Unless we make a pocket universe with different physics to put our computers in.
    • Re:Moore's Law (Score:5, Interesting)

      by beelsebob (529313) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @06:43PM (#44954177)

      So in 1971, we could do 740,000 additions in a second, given that your new law asserts doubling of computational power every 18 months, that implies that that in jesus' time it took them 3.5e386 *days* to do one addition. Something tells me this is bullshit :P

      • by beelsebob (529313)

        Whoops sorry, I took the clock rate of a 4004, not the instruction rate. Make that 3.5e387 days.

      • by gnomff (2740801)
        The OP is talking about what Kurzwiel says in 'The Singularity is Near' - that calculations/second/$1000 has been growing exponentially [wikipedia.org] independently of Moore's law (and by law I mean off the cuff observation). The 'per $1000' is the important part you're missing.
    • The hand wringing that the idea behind Moore's Law will ever end is just silly. When we reach the limits of silicon chips some other technology will take its place. This is just how human technology works.

      Optimism is fine, but blind faith has no place in science.

      • by tmosley (996283)
        Not in science, but in people.

        Despite what you read on the internet, people are really pretty awesome.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      That sounds a lot like The Age of Spiritual Machines [wikipedia.org] by Ray Kurzweil [wikipedia.org], a well-known proponent of the singularity and graphs like this one [wikipedia.org] which charts exponential change going back to the beginning of life on Earth. Ray Kurzweil tends to come off as absurdly over-optimistic, but I do agree that the end of silicon in 2020 is unlikely to be the end of Moore's Law. On the other hand, unbounded exponential growth doesn't happen in the real world [ucsd.edu]; Moore's Law will certainly stop at some point, it just isn't clear
    • by khallow (566160)

      The hand wringing that the idea behind Moore's Law will ever end is just silly.

      There are two physical constraints Moore's law can't get around. For a volume of a fixed surface area, you are limited to how much information you can pack in there before a black hole forms. Second, a change of state, say flip a bit of memory, generates at a certain amount of heat. As a result, Moore's law will end.

  • If only we found a way to manufacture them.

  • by Macman408 (1308925) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @05:48PM (#44953663)

    1. "Lab-grown circuits that are thousands of times thinner than a human hair" is exactly what one could use to describe current silicon circuits. In fact, this study made transistors that are a micron across (which is, at best, hundreds of times thinner than a human hair), compared to current state-of-the-art silicon which is in the 22-28 nm range.
    2. "A fraction of the energy required" does not describe the current study, nor was it their intent, from what I understand about the researchers' claims.

    That's not to say that the research isn't very valuable; it looks like the level of integration they've managed is significantly better than what anybody else has achieved. But at the same time, there are lots of other ways that you could build a circuit that uses more area, costs more, takes longer to build, and is less power-efficient - this is just one more. All they've demonstrated is that you can hook together more than a handful of transistors successfully - but nowhere near the billions that they'd need for a commercial product.

    The real breakthroughs have yet to be made; making it cheaper, smaller, faster, more efficient, and easily manufacturable - all at the same time. Not until all those problems are solved will it even have a chance of replacing real silicon. Until then, this is yet another case of a university PR rep boasting about their institution's research with grand claims about what the future holds, while not really reflecting the true nature of the research at hand.

    (Admittedly, it is more boring when you adhere to reality.)

    • by Goldsmith (561202) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @08:37PM (#44954987)

      I am a nanotube scientist, and I support this comment.

      As a field, we need to stop the hyperbole. It's embarrassing. They're doing a nice job of integration, but to claim any kind of fundamental advancement is absurd and irresponsible.

      As an industrial scientist, this kind of misleading stuff makes my job significantly harder. Your typical non-expert doesn't realize that these guys did not achieve the aims claimed in the press release and are no where near to achieving them. If I do want to make meaningful advancements in manufacturability or performance, I first have to teach investors and business partners that the academics in my field are all lying to the public... not a good starting point.

  • by uCallHimDrJ0NES (2546640) on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @05:55PM (#44953729)
    This is what will drive the future legislation to eliminate all hair in order to protect Hollywood and save us from perverts and terrists.
  • That is by far the most incredible scanning electron microscopy image I have ever seen! The colors are so vibrant! And what function do the column of nanoscale binary numbers on the left hand side do? Are they thirty-two 10-digit numbers or ten 32-digit numbers? Now hit "Enlarge" and BLOW YOUR MIND. Those white lines in the center of the colored areas are actually dots. WHAT DOES IT MEAN?? But seriously, when the image is enlarged you can actually see some of the very tiny edge imperfections between
  • Moore's Law (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 25, 2013 @06:38PM (#44954111)

    The number of people predicting the end of Moore's Law doubles every two years.

    • by Alsee (515537)

      That means there will come a day when it's every person, and then two years later...
      Whoa! Duuuude! That's like totally Trippy!

      -

  • A fellow I knew about ten years ago was wacko conspiracy theorist, "I've seen the mothership" UFO believer, who also was an incredible analog and digital electronics wizard. He told me that the NSA was already using carbon-based semiconductors running at much higher clock speeds for its various nefarious operations. This makes me wonder if carbon nanotube technology hadn't already been developed and implemented in "skunkworks" world and it's only now that it's being developed in universities. It's sort o

  • " assemble a basic computer with 178 transistors"

    Bunk. 100+ times as many normal transisters required to support its operation as a 'basic computer'.
    (the 4004 had 2300 and required many support chips)

    Its a long way from a lab to something practical. Will the techniques scale up?
    Or will remaining irregularities scuttle any effort of 1million plus sized circuits which is 'basic' these days.

    Let us know when you get alot further along.

  • Surely this is the year of the "Inanimate carbon rod", as predicted by the great prophet Homer.

  • This is usually the limiting factor in the monthly "I can replace silicon" article.

Going the speed of light is bad for your age.

Working...