NY Times has a piece on self-assembling nanotechnology research at IBM:
The remarkable progression of Moore’s Law, meanwhile, involves continually shrinking almost everything to do with the chips. Today, the transistors in a high-end chip are no wider than the nucleus of a smallish bacterium — that’s far smaller than the smallest light wave.
Until now, as chips became smaller, they also became faster in about the same proportion. It’s still true for transistors, but it’s no longer true for the wires used to connect transistors — and that slows performance gains. Daniel Edelstein, a program manager and fellow at I.B.M. Research, says, “We’re running out of steam.”
Mr. Edelstein is leading a team of researchers from inside and outside I.B.M. in developing a new way to solve the problem: using “self assembling” nanotechnology to make better insulators, raising performance. In this case, self-assembly involves creating so-called airgaps, vacuums a few nanometers wide that keep the billions of tiny copper wires in a chip from touching one another, instead of putting down a layer of insulating material and trying to align it effectively at the nanoscale. It’s more efficient, and it means that I.B.M. won’t need to spend $50 million on photolithographic equipment.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Edelstein took me on a tour of the fab in East Fishkill, N.Y., that will be the first to use the self-assembly technique. While the technique is not quite done being tested, John E. Kelly III, I.B.M.’s senior vice president for research, says that “there is no question in our minds this is going to work,” and that I.B.M. will move to it by 2009, first for an existing high-end processor or a next-generation chip, then across its fabs.