A group of scientists look at a natural means to keep up with Moore's Law

Moore's Law has driven integrated circuit manufacturers to continuously pack more and more transistors onto a microchip.  Intel and AMD both estimate we'll see 32nm processors this year; memory manufacturers already boast 22nm NAND structure.

Ultimately photolithography will no longer be able to produce smaller nodes as the limit of visible light resolution is reached. Even with high-k metal transistor gates, which help control current leakage considerably, some estimate the lowest size physically possible will be around 11nm.

A group of scientists led by Michael Sussman, director of University of Wisconsin, Madison's Biotechnology Center, and oceanography professor Virginia Armbrust of the University of Washington claims the possibility of a new biological means of producing even smaller chips with the helping hand of diatoms. 

Diatoms are eukaryotic, or unicellular algae. One feature that sets them apart from typical phytoplankton is their custom-built cell walls which they create from silicon dioxide, or silica. Sussman's interest lies in that diatoms are capable of creating lines of silica much smaller than present chip manufacturing processes can make out of silicon.

The particular diatom Sussman and Armbrust's group have been working with is known as Thalassiosira pseudonana. Armbrust previously led the effort to sequence T. pseudonana's genome in 2004. The group has identified 75 genes that are used in the silica bioprocess for the diatoms and they hope to use genetic manipulation to find out what they can do with the microscopic organism in the guise of a chip builder.

Not just an organism sitting on the verge of a possible breakthrough in chip manufacturing, diatoms are responsible for a large part of the Earth's carbon cycle. Diatoms, which dwell in water and damp soil, are estimated to soak around 20% of the total carbon dioxide removed from air yearly -- a number very close to what all of Earth's rainforests together are figured for.

"We don't know how to make a $500 computer that's not a piece of junk." -- Apple CEO Steve Jobs
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