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Microprocessors using DNA construction are ten years away

IBM is synonymous with performance in the supercomputing world. In fact, the company's hardware is inside five of the top ten supercomputers in the world. IBM and other CPU makers are always looking to improve the technology behind the construction of microprocessors.

The latest research breakthrough from IBM was made in conjunction with the California Institute of Technology. The breakthrough uses DNA, the building blocks of the human body, as the starting point for microprocessors built at under 22nm size. The semiconductor industry is facing significant hurdles in developing lithographic construction processes for under 22nm construction. Research is also being done into incorporating carbon nanotubes or silicon nanowires into construction processes.

The smaller a semiconductor can be built, the cheaper the parts are to produce as well because more can be made on a single wafer.

Researchers at IBM have made a breakthrough that involves using DNA molecules as a scaffolding to build semiconductors. The so-called DNA origami structures are compatible with lithographic processes used in construction today. The DNA scaffolding approach allows IBM to place millions of carbon nanotubes that self assemble precisely into patterns by sticking to the DNA molecules.

Spike Narayan, manager, Science & Technology, IBM Research – Almaden, said in a statement, "The cost involved in shrinking features to improve performance is a limiting factor in keeping pace with Moore’s Law and a concern across the semiconductor industry. The combination of this directed self-assembly with today’s fabrication technology eventually could lead to substantial savings in the most expensive and challenging part of the chip-making process."

The DNA origami structures were developed at Caltech and cause single DNA molecules to assemble in a solution via a reaction between a long single strand of viral DNA and a mixture of different short synthetic oligonucleotide strands. IBM reports that the short strands act as staples to fold the viral DNA into the desired 2D shape through complementary base pair binding.

The sections can provide attachments sites for nanoscale components at resolutions as small at six nanometers. This allows DNA nanostructures like squares, triangles, and stars to be made at dimensions of 100 to 150 microns on edge and about the width of a DNA double helix.

IBM then fashioned lithographic templates using traditional semiconductor techniques that are used to make chips for computers today. IBM reports that either an electron beam or optical lithography were used to create arrays of binding sites of the proper shape and size to attach the DNA origami structures. The origami only binds to the sticky patches created by the lithography process.

Processors using the process are still a decade or more away from reality according to the researchers. The technique needs more testing and experimentation before it can be deployed on a mass scale.



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Running out of Room
By MozeeToby on 8/17/2009 11:40:44 AM , Rating: 5
I sure hope that someone at these places is looking into more than just shrinking the transistors down because we can't keep doing that for much longer. At 5nm, quantum tunneling starts to create so much noise in the system that it is unworkable. Not just unworkable as in we need to do more research, I mean unworkable as in it is not even theoretically possible to make a usable system below that size.

I'm sure that the final size barrier will just push them into a different direction, probably causing the first real breakthroughs in decades, but I'd be more interested in hearing about the teams working on more theoretical work. True 3D chip architectures, spintronics, optical computing, that kind of thing.




RE: Running out of Room
By CommodoreVic20 on 8/17/2009 4:17:36 PM , Rating: 3
I agree. Where is the innovation? This is putting an enormous amount of effort to obtain relatively small gains on a technology that will be replaced. In order for computing to move forward we need radical change.


RE: Running out of Room
By HrilL on 8/17/2009 6:03:49 PM , Rating: 2
IBM has a team working on optical computing a few years back they made optical memory though it couldn't hold a bit for very long it is a work in progress.

The way I see it is you make stuff the best you can with current tech until it cost to much to make and then you look for cheaper options once you reach the point. Or mix upcoming tech with current tech like they are doing. These same building concepts are what will likely be used in future chips even optical ones.


RE: Running out of Room
By superPC on 8/17/2009 9:01:42 PM , Rating: 3
Well using memristor in a crossbar latch instead of transistor should increase computing speed and makes it possible to shrink electronics to molecular level. that's the big next step. first comes vacuum tube, then comes transistor, now memristor. I'm sure computing speed would continue to double for another century.


RE: Running out of Room
By Ammohunt on 8/17/2009 10:22:35 PM , Rating: 2
Its called multi-core; soon we will have a core for every process.


RE: Running out of Room
By Hieyeck on 8/17/2009 10:51:35 PM , Rating: 2
and computers the size of entire rooms again! Good thing I kept that univac room around!


RE: Running out of Room
By Silver2k7 on 8/18/2009 11:49:25 AM , Rating: 1
MozeeToby: don't be such a neggo.

Shrinking dies and using cnt as building blocks is a good and innovative thing.

Who says that molecular level will be the smallest possible.. im sure someone will find a way around to getting things even smaller.

There is probably plenty of people doing research on how to make the first optical/quantum/biological computers or whatever you where bitching about IBM not giving you instantly.. getting some new revolutionary idea off the drawing board and onto the market usually takes lots of time and effort.


150 MIcrons?
By trisct on 8/17/2009 12:35:23 PM , Rating: 1
I would guess that a DNA helix is more like 150 nanometers, not microns, wide. That seems like a typo to me.




RE: 150 MIcrons?
By tastyratz on 8/17/2009 4:36:16 PM , Rating: 2
Technically according to wiki (which is a loose source of course)
DNA double helix is 2.2 to 2.6 nanometers - which is 0.0022 microns to 0.0026 microns.
In the interest of truth: You are correct that its smaller, but it's even smaller than that.


RE: 150 MIcrons?
By MrPoletski on 8/18/2009 2:49:39 AM , Rating: 2
but the DNa molecule is actually a few millimeters long


RE: 150 MIcrons?
By Chemical Chris on 8/18/2009 2:19:30 PM , Rating: 2
Its actually 2 Meters long!
The few mm measurement is when it is still associated: there are several levels of structure (dna wrappen around histones (200-400bp), histones arranged together in a loop (IIRC, 9 or 11 histones, ~3-5kbp), then this forms a string which then loops around a central scaffold. The DNA that you can see under a microscope is this high level structure.

ChemC


Reality
By rrburton on 8/17/2009 12:25:02 PM , Rating: 2
I'm fairly confident that that there are processors having DNA on them today, though many wouldn't admit how it got there....




RE: Reality
By nafhan on 8/17/2009 12:56:09 PM , Rating: 5
Having worked in a semiconductor plant for a short time (~6 months), I found this kind of funny.
I remember a woman dropping a box of 25, 2/3's of the way complete, 200mm wafers, destined to become RDRAM chips. All 25 wafers shattered of course. $20,000 or so down the drain... The last thing you want to hear in a semiconductor plant is the sound of breaking glass!


RE: Reality
By dark matter on 8/17/09, Rating: -1
i can just see it now...
By manofhorn on 8/17/2009 11:40:13 AM , Rating: 1
for the same reason they have to call "NMR" "MRI" instead because people are afraid of the word "nuclear"... "i saw the word viral! that processor has a virus in it! 'I Am Legend' all over again!"




RE: i can just see it now...
By grath on 8/18/2009 11:29:34 PM , Rating: 2
Good thing people dont bother to realize what a PET scan is then (Positron Emission Tomography)

OMG YOURE INJECTING ME WITH ANTIMATTER!!!


RE: i can just see it now...
By sld on 8/19/2009 10:17:46 AM , Rating: 2
NMR is a phenomenon. MRI is a technique that leverages that phenomenon. They are not equivalent.


Bio Correction
By jtemplin on 8/17/2009 12:49:53 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
The breakthrough uses DNA, the building blocks of the human body


Actually, the building blocks of our body are proteins. To correct the article I would say that DNA contains the blueprints of the human body.




Growing CNT's is tough
By Shig on 8/17/2009 12:05:09 PM , Rating: 3
Ingenious way of growing carbon nanotubes. Growing CNT's the way you want is so vitally important because slight variations in them will completely change their properties (nearly superconducting to semi-conductor all the way to almost being an insulator).

This growing method is reminiscent of the way biological scientists are growing organs with stem cell scaffolding.




Oh no!
By kaoken on 8/17/2009 2:50:20 PM , Rating: 2
This will give a whole new meaning to the phrase, "My computer caught a virus."




By BZDTemp on 8/17/2009 6:14:56 PM , Rating: 2
In fact the savings are just a benefit as going smaller has a lot of functional benefits (until to small is reached that is).




By geekman1024 on 8/18/2009 4:12:06 AM , Rating: 2
Andy called me up in a totally freaked-out manner, screaming: "Oh my god! My 2 CPUs combined their DNA and produced a baby! What should I do!? What should I do?!"




By nofumble62 on 8/21/2009 1:42:29 AM , Rating: 2
could you?




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Wow, it's always about money
By BaronMatrix on 8/17/09, Rating: -1
RE: Wow, it's always about money
By SPOOFE on 8/17/2009 1:17:29 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
I mean the world ran fine before Intel and IBM.

Yeah? What was better?


By dark matter on 8/17/2009 2:53:17 PM , Rating: 2
The analytic machine rocked!


RE: Wow, it's always about money
By TSS on 8/17/2009 4:25:43 PM , Rating: 5
"All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"


RE: Wow, it's always about money
By kaoken on 8/17/2009 2:46:37 PM , Rating: 2
And who says IBM isn't working on that also.


By bighairycamel on 8/17/2009 2:58:41 PM , Rating: 5
This is a corporation, not a charity. UNICEF doesn't make processors.

And if you want to get technical, this could help us in a roundabout way. Shrinking the die means adding more transistors (ala Moore's Law) which means increasing performance while diminishing heat with a smaller process, and also leaves more room for architectural changes. Things like protein folding would greatly benefit from faster servers and PCs. Of course, IBM isn't making faster and cheaper CPUs for protein folding, they're in it for money. So if you don't like it you're free to invest your 401k and IRAs into a company you feel morally balanced with.


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