IBM goes Eau Naturelle

Written by Brett Thomas

May 4, 2007 | 16:33

Tags: #fabrication #nano #silicon #vacuum

Companies: #ibm

We've been wondering for some time now how close we could get to breaking Moore's law with current chip fabrication. Some people expected that we'd start to see a decline in processor growth. Others, like myself, just contently sat back waiting to see who would build a better mousetrap. And the answer is unsurprising -- it's IBM. With a little help from mother nature, of course.

IBM has developed a new chip fabrication that can allow for a considerably more dense chip that actually takes less time and expense to create than standard methods. The "secret" is actually growing the chip to create vacuums inside of it as an insulator, rather than requiring a separate process.

In normal chip fabrication, a special insulator is put around the copper wiring, which is then etched off of the necessary contacts by a light process and a chemical bath. This process is both very expensive and very prone to error, causing dead chips and wasted silicon.

Further, an insulator is not a guarantee -- if the insulating layers get too thin, current can still cross through them. This failing has been one of the two primary reasons for an inevitable conclusion to Moore's Law (the other being wire thickness) under current fabrication conditions.

The new process uses a dissolving glass that creates vacuum pockets in between the wires. In physics, a vacuum is actually the most perfect insulator, as there is nothing for the electricity to flow across. Therefore, these pockets can be smaller than current insulating techniques. As an added bonus, they don't require the same expensive light etching process, which reduces cost and environmental by-product (etching solution is not exactly environmentally friendly).

To develop the design, IBM had turned to nature, which uses a similar process to create snow flakes, tooth enamel, and seashells. Of course, the plan had to be deviated from slightly - the natural order makes almost every vacuous pocket unique in size and shape, which wouldn't work in a chip design. IBM's technology, in comparison, creates uniform pockets. I guess some things are still better left to nature.

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