RealTime IT News

Big Memory, Itty-Bitty Chips

Intel has formed a collaborative partnership with Nanosys, a technology company that has patents on "nanostructures," to develop future memory systems smaller and more powerful than today's chips.

According to the agreement, announced Monday, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel will help support Nanosys's experiments in memory systems using nanotechnology, and the companies will work together exclusively on certain undisclosed areas for a predetermined period of time.

A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or roughly 75,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair. At such a miniscule size, materials take on new electronic, optical, magnetic and interfacial properties. Nanosys is developing structures such as nanowires, nanorods, nanotetrapods and nanodots from semiconductor materials. They can be used for such things as chemical and bio-sensors, large-area electronics, and solar cells.

Intel has explored nanotechnology for some time. In March 2002, it launched a Computational Nanovision project, to create high-precision analysis tools. In May 2003, Intel Capital, the chip maker's strategic investment group, participated in a second round of financing, which raised $38 million. In November, Intel demonstrated fully functional SRAM (Static Random Access Memory) chips using 65-nanometer (nm) technology, a next generation high-volume semiconductor manufacturing process. The technology is expected to debut on Intel 300 mm wafers sometime in 2004.

Some -- Intel included -- see research and development in nanotechnology as a way to boost Silicon Valley's scrofulous economy. Signed into law in December 2003, the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act authorized $36 billion over three years for nanotechnology research and development programs at the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Department of Energy , the Department of Commerce, NASA, and the Environmental Protection Agency. The NSF predicts a $1 trillion global market for nanotechnology by 2114.