IBM Claims Chip-Making Advance

IBM continued its foray into better chip-making methods this week with a new technique to build microscopic memory processors.

The Armonk, N.Y., company said it’s using “molecular self assembly,” a technique that uses nanotechnology components (one-billionth of a meter) to help build smaller, faster electronic devices.

The technology is compatible with existing chip-making tools and will be piloted in IBM plants some three to five years from now. The technique could improve commercial devices in about three to 10 years.

“Self assembly opens up new opportunities for patterning at dimensions smaller than those in current technologies,” IBM Research vice president Dr. T.C. Chen said in a statement. “As components in (IT) products continue to shrink toward the molecular scale, self-assembly techniques could be used to enhance lithographic methods.”

The advancements are detailed in an IBM white paper titled “Low Voltage, Scalable Nanocrystal FLASH Memory Fabricated by Templated Self Assembly”. The authors are scheduled to present their findings this week at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in Washington.

IBM scientists said the self-assembly technique is better than current lithography manufacturing methods because some polymer molecules organically organize themselves into tight patterns that are about 20 nanometers in diameter and 40 nanometers apart. Using that knowledge, IBM researchers used “self assembly” to form a dense silicon nanocrystal array on 200 mm diameter silicon wafers to make a faster variation of FLASH memory .

IBM has been at the forefront of nanotechnology development. Big Blue’s work with carbon nanotube logic circuits and molecular electronics, for example, is aimed at maintaining its commercial edge through the release of more powerful computers five, 10 or 15 years into the future.

What’s different about IBM is the company’s resources. Most other nanotech initiatives and companies, even the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, which has a $600 million budget, pale in comparison. IBM is investing billions in nanotech.

Its latest chip plant in East Fishkill, N.Y., is expected to cost $2.5 billion and enable the company to make chips with connections in the 100nm range; current state-of-the-art is 130nm. The plant is expected to be online by the 2004.

Although IBM is not working in all areas of nanotech, the company has projects involving many and are watching the entire industry carefully. They have even recently convened a group to look at the life sciences area to see where IBM’s nano-initiatives can contribute.

Specifically, IBM is working on molecular electronics based on the synthesis of novel organic molecules; molecular scale electronics based on carbon nanotubes; and systems that work on the self-assembly principals to template the formation of inorganic structures.

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