Carbon nanotubes look to step in and pick up where copper trails off.

The scientists at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, New York, have been busy playing with carbon nanotubes (CNT) for the past few years. Their research has brought us the possibility of paper batteries, remote-controlled disease killing bombs, and the blackest material in the world.

Saroj Nayak, associate professor at Rensselaer's Department of Physics, Applied Physics and Astronomy, recently led a team on a research project to compare the conductive properties of copper nanowires with that of carbon nanotube bundles. The conclusion probably won't be much of a shock: CNT bundles came out on top.

Rather than comparing the empirical data between the two subjects, Nayak's team used the world's fastest university based supercomputer, Rensselaer's Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations, to study their quantum mechanical properties. While empirical measurements are fine for research at a normal scale, the interaction of molecules, atoms, and some of their building blocks are more accurately measured below the macro scale using quantum mechanical observations.

The team's ultimate goal was to learn which material would be better for microchip interconnects. Copper interconnects are quickly coming to a choke point as chip cores continue their downward spiral. The current 45nm technology is not predicted to be the final blow, thanks to things like high-k metal interconnect gates. Some research suggests cores built on 15nm technology are more than feasible.

However, replacing the copper that is currently used for interconnects with a more efficient material would be a boon to chip makers and designers, possibly allowing them to even further shrink the process.

Though CNT bundles look to be a promising new material for microchips, there are still some ramifications to be dealt with before mass production could start. An economical way to grow the bundles, as well as a method to ensure the tubes themselves are 100% metallic will have to be found. A more thorough understanding of the electrical properties of CNTs as interconnects will be needed as well.

Nayak's groups' research will be featured in the March issue of Journal of Physics: Condensed Matter.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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