Nanowires May Help Electronics Industry

Researchers from Purdue and IBM have discovered that tiny structures called silicon nanowires might be ideal for manufacturing future computers and consumer electronics because the nanowires form the same way every time.

The researchers used an instrument called a transmission electron microscope to watch how nanowires made of silicon “nucleate,” or begin to form, before growing into wires, says Eric Stach, an assistant professor of materials engineering. It was the first time researchers had made such precise measurements of the nucleation process in nanowires, according to Stach.

“The implication is that if you are trying to create electronic devices based on these technologies, you could actually predict when things are going to start their crystal-growth process. You can see that it’s going to happen the same way every time and that there is some potential for doing things in a repeatable fashion in electronics manufacturing.”

Nanowires might enable engineers to solve a problem threatening to derail the electronics industry. New technologies will be needed for industry to keep pace with Moore’s law, an unofficial rule stating that the number of transistors on a computer chip doubles about every 18 months, resulting in rapid progress in computers and telecommunications. Doubling the number of devices that can fit on a computer chip translates into a similar increase in performance. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to continue shrinking electronic devices made of conventional silicon-based semiconductors.

“In something like 5 to, at most, 10 years, silicon transistor dimensions will have been scaled to their limit,” Stach says. Transistors made of nanowires represent one potential way to continue the tradition of Moore’s law.

-Emil Venere