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.

"My sex life is pretty good" -- Steve Jobs' random musings during the 2010 D8 conference

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