Archive for the ‘nanotechnology’ Category
It’s Monday, and here in Austin, Texas, it officially got cold overnight.
Yesterday, it was partly cloudy and almost steamy warm. And this morning, it’s like I was transplanted back to IBM’s Somers, New York, location, where the wind streams across the Westchester landscape and chills native Texans like me to their core.
But enough talk about the weather. I want to get to the topic of the day: Making little things that move information faster.
Earlier today, IBM announced a major advance in the ability to use light instead of electrical signals to transmit information for future computing.
The breakthrough technology — called “silicon nanophotonics” — allows the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip using, for the first time, sub-100nm semiconductor technology.
Silicon nanophotonics takes advantage of pulses of light for communication and provides a super highway for large volumes of data to move at rapid speeds between computer chips in servers, large data centers, and supercomputers, thus alleviating the limitations of congested data traffic and high-cost traditional interconnects.
Big Light, Bigger Data
The amount of data being created and transmitted over enterprise networks continues to grow due to an explosion of new applications and services.
Silicon nanophotonics, now primed for commercial development, can enable the industry to keep pace with increasing demands in chip performance and computing power. Businesses are entering a new era of computing that requires systems to process and analyze, in real-time, huge volumes of information known as “big data.”
Silicon nanophotonics technology provides answers to big data challenges by seamlessly connecting various parts of large systems, whether few centimeters or few kilometers apart from each other, and move terabytes of data via pulses of light through optical fibers.
Building Proof Beyond Concept
Building on its initial proof of concept in 2010, IBM has solved the key challenges of transferring the silicon nanophotonics technology into the commercial foundry.
By adding a few processing modules into a high-performance 90nm CMOS fabrication line, a variety of silicon nanophotonics components such as wavelength division multiplexers (WDM), modulators, and detectors are integrated side-by-side with a CMOS electrical circuitry.
As a result, single-chip optical communications transceivers can be manufactured in a conventional semiconductor foundry, providing significant cost reduction over traditional approaches.
IBM’s CMOS nanophotonics technology demonstrates transceivers to exceed the data rate of 25Gbps per channel. In addition, the technology is capable of feeding a number of parallel optical data streams into a single fiber by utilizing compact on-chip wavelength-division multiplexing devices.
Learning More About Nanophotonics
The ability to multiplex large data streams at high data rates will allow future scaling of optical communications capable of delivering terabytes of data between distant parts of computer systems.
“This technology breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM,” said Dr. John E. Kelly, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research. “This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications.”
Further details will be presented this week by Dr. Solomon Assefa at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM) in the talk titled, “A 90nm CMOS Integrated Nano-Photonics Technology for 25Gbps WDM Optical Communications Applications.”
You can learn more about IBM silicon integrated nanophotonics technology here.
Since I posted about Hurricane Sandy earlier in the day, I’ve seen some pretty stunning pictures and video coming in, and heard more reports from friends in and around the New York City area.
The story of the crane toppling over on a very tall building being built on West 57th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues (my old IBM office is at Madison and 57th, further east) was most stunning. You can find some of the pics or video on CNN.
While we wait to discover how big a problem Sandy presents to the northeast Atlantic coast, I’ll share with you a diversion focusing on a much smaller topic — but one with potentially huge implications.
IBM scientists recently demonstrated a new approach to carbon technology that opens up the path for commercial fabrication of dramatically smaller, faster and more powerful computer chips.
For the first time, more than ten thousand working transistors made of nano-sized tubes of carbon have been precisely placed and tested in a single chip using standard semiconductor processes.
These carbon devices are poised to replace and outperform silicon technology allowing further miniaturization of computing components and leading the way for future microelectronics.
Four Decades Of Innovation
Aided by rapid innovation over four decades, silicon microprocessor technology has continually shrunk in size and improved in performance, thereby driving the information technology revolution.
Silicon transistors, tiny switches that carry information on a chip, have been made smaller year after year, but they are approaching a point of physical limitation.
Their increasingly small dimensions, now reaching the nanoscale, will prohibit any gains in performance due to the nature of silicon and the laws of physics. Within a few more generations, classical scaling and shrinkage will no longer yield the sizable benefits of lower power, lower cost and higher speed processors that the industry has become accustomed to.
Carbon nanotubes represent a new class of semiconductor materials whose electrical properties are more attractive than silicon, particularly for building nanoscale transistor devices that are a few tens of atoms across.
Electrons in carbon transistors can move easier than in silicon-based devices allowing for quicker transport of data. The nanotubes are also ideally shaped for transistors at the atomic scale, an advantage over silicon.
These qualities are among the reasons to replace the traditional silicon transistor with carbon — and coupled with new chip design architectures — will allow computing innovation on a miniature scale for the future.
The approach developed at IBM labs paves the way for circuit fabrication with large numbers of carbon nanotube transistors at predetermined substrate positions. The ability to isolate semiconducting nanotubes and place a high density of carbon devices on a wafer is crucial to assess their suitability for a technology — eventually more than one billion transistors will be needed for future integration into commercial chips.
Hardly A Carbon Copy
Until now, scientists have been able to place at most a few hundred carbon nanotube devices at a time, not nearly enough to address key issues for commercial applications.
Originally studied for the physics that arises from their atomic dimensions and shapes, carbon nanotubes are being explored by scientists worldwide in applications that span integrated circuits, energy storage and conversion, biomedical sensing and DNA sequencing.
This achievement was published today in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Nanotechnology.
Carbon, a readily available basic element from which crystals as hard as diamonds and as soft as the “lead” in a pencil are made, has wide-ranging IT applications.
Carbon nanotubes are single atomic sheets of carbon rolled up into a tube. The carbon nanotube forms the core of a transistor device that will work in a fashion similar to the current silicon transistor, but will be better performing. They could be used to replace the transistors in chips that power our data-crunching servers, high performing computers and ultra fast smart phones.
Earlier this year, IBM researchers demonstrated carbon nanotube transistors can operate as excellent switches at molecular dimensions of less than ten nanometers – the equivalent to 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair and less than half the size of the leading silicon technology. Comprehensive modeling of the electronic circuits suggests that about a five to ten times improvement in performance compared to silicon circuits is possible.
There are practical challenges for carbon nanotubes to become a commercial technology notably, as mentioned earlier, due to the purity and placement of the devices. Carbon nanotubes naturally come as a mix of metallic and semiconducting species and need to be placed perfectly on the wafer surface to make electronic circuits. For device operation, only the semiconducting kind of tubes is useful which requires essentially complete removal of the metallic ones to prevent errors in circuits.
Also, for large scale integration to happen, it is critical to be able to control the alignment and the location of carbon nanotube devices on a substrate.
To overcome these barriers, IBM researchers developed a novel method based on ion-exchange chemistry that allows precise and controlled placement of aligned carbon nanotubes on a substrate at a high density — two orders of magnitude greater than previous experiments, enabling the controlled placement of individual nanotubes with a density of about a billion per square centimeter.
The process starts with carbon nanotubes mixed with a surfactant, a kind of soap that makes them soluble in water. A substrate is comprised of two oxides with trenches made of chemically-modified hafnium oxide (HfO2) and the rest of silicon oxide (SiO2). The substrate gets immersed in the carbon nanotube solution and the nanotubes attach via a chemical bond to the HfO2 regions while the rest of the surface remains clean.
By combining chemistry, processing and engineering expertise, IBM researchers are able to fabricate more than ten thousand transistors on a single chip.
Furthermore, rapid testing of thousands of devices is possible using high volume characterization tools due to compatibility to standard commercial processes.
As this new placement technique can be readily implemented, involving common chemicals and existing semiconductor fabrication, it will allow the industry to work with carbon nanotubes at a greater scale and deliver further innovation for carbon electronics.
You can learn more in the animation below.
Scientists at IBM Research have achieved major advances in quantum computing device performance that may accelerate the realization of a practical, full-scale quantum computer.
For specific applications, quantum computing, which exploits the underlying quantum mechanical behavior of matter, has the potential to deliver computational power that is unrivaled by any supercomputer today.
Follow the IBM Research blog for coverage to learn more about breakthroughs from IBM scientists.
Quantum computing has been a Holy Grail for researchers ever since Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman, in 1981, challenged the scientific community to build computers based on quantum mechanics. For decades, the pursuit remained firmly in the theoretical realm. But now IBM scientists believe they’re on the cusp of building systems that will take computing to a whole new level.
Using a variety of techniques in the IBM labs, scientists have established three new records for reducing errors in elementary computations and retaining the integrity of quantum mechanical properties in quantum bits (qubits) – the basic units that carry information within quantum computing.
IBM has chosen to employ superconducting qubits, which use established microfabrication techniques developed for silicon technology, providing the potential to one day scale up to and manufacture thousands or millions of qubits.
IBM researchers will be presenting their latest results today at the annual American Physical Society meeting taking place February 27-March 2, 2012 in Boston, Mass.
The Possibilities of Quantum Computing
The special properties of qubits will allow quantum computers to work on millions of computations at once, while desktop PCs can typically handle minimal simultaneous computations.
For example, a single 250-qubit state contains more bits of information than there are atoms in the universe.
These properties will have wide-spread implications foremost for the field of data encryption where quantum computers could factor very large numbers like those used to decode and encode sensitive information.
Other potential applications for quantum computing may include searching databases of unstructured information, performing a range of optimization tasks and solving previously unsolvable mathematical problems.
IBM researchers have published a breakthrough technique in the peer-reviewed journal Science that measures how long a single atom can hold information, and giving scientists the ability to record, study, and “visualize” extremely fast phenomena inside these atoms.
The scientists at IBM Research in our Almaden Labs are using the Scanning Tunneling Microscope like a high-speed camera to record the behavior of individual atoms at a speed of about one million times faster than previously possible.
IBM researchers in Zurich invented the Scanning Tunneling Microscope in 1981 and were awarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts.
Since then, IBM scientists have been pushing the boundaries of science using the Scanning Tunneling Microscope to understand the fundamental properties of matter at the atomic scale, with vast potential for game-changing innovation in information storage and computation.
The ability to measure nanosecond-fast phenomena opens a new realm of experiments for scientists, since they can now add the dimension of time to experiments in which extremely fast changes occur.
To put this into perspective, the difference between one nanosecond and one second is about the same comparison as one second to 30 years. An immense amount of physics happens during that time that scientists previously could not see.
In addition to allowing scientists to better understand the nanoscale phenomena in solar cells, this breakthrough could be used to study areas such as quantum computing, which are radically different types of computers not bound to the binary nature of traditional computers but which instead have the potential to perform advanced computations that are not possible today.
Or information storage technology, which, as technology approaches the atomic scale, provides scientists the opportunity to explore beyond the limits of magnetic storage. This breakthrough specifically allows scientists to “see” an atom’s electronic and magnetic properties and explore whether or not information can be reliably stored on a single atom.
Hold On: This Gets Geeky
Since the magnetic spin of an atom changes too fast to measure directly using previously available Scanning Tunneling Microscope techniques, time-dependent behavior is recorded stroboscopically, in a manner similar to the techniques first used in creating motion pictures, or like in time lapse photography today.
Using a “pump-probe” measurement technique, a fast voltage pulse (the pump pulse) excites the atom and a subsequent weaker voltage pulse (the probe pulse) then measures the orientation of the atom’s magnetism at a certain time after excitation. In essence, the time delay between the pump and the probe sets the frame time of each measurement.
This delay is then varied step-by-step and the average magnetic motion is recorded in small time increments. For each time increment, the scientists repeat the alternating voltage pulses about 100,000 times, which takes less than one second.
In the experiment, iron atoms were deposited onto an insulating layer only one atom thick and supported on a copper crystal. This surface was selected to allow the atoms to be probed electrically while retaining their magnetism. The iron atoms were then positioned with atomic precision next to non-magnetic copper atoms in order to control the interaction of the iron with the local environment of nearby atoms.
The resulting structures were then measured in the presence of different magnetic fields to reveal that the speed at which they change their magnetic orientation depends sensitively on the magnetic field. This showed that the atoms relax by means of quantum mechanical tunneling of the atom’s magnetic moment, an intriguing process by which the atom’s magnetism can reverse its direction without passing through intermediate orientations.
This knowledge may allow scientists to engineer the magnetic lifetime of the atoms to make them longer (to retain their magnetic state) or shorter (to switch to a new magnetic state) as needed to create future spintronic devices.
“This breakthrough allows us – for the first time – to understand how long information can be stored in an individual atom. Beyond this, the technique has great potential because it is applicable to many types of physics happening on the nanoscale,” said Sebastian Loth, IBM Research, about the discovery. “IBM’s continued investment in exploratory and fundamental science allows us to explore the great potential of nanotechnology for the future of the IT industry.”
A Majorly Small Matter
Among IBM’s many nanotechnology milestones, its scientists won a Nobel Prize for inventing the Scanning Tunneling Microscope, devised methods to manipulate individual atoms for the first time – famously spelling the letters IBM with 35 Xenon atoms – developed logic circuits using carbon nanotubes, and incorporated sub-nanometer material layers into commercially mass-produced hard disk drive recording heads and magnetic disk coatings.
IBM’s current nanotechnology research aims to devise new atomic- and molecular-scale structures and methods for enhancing information technologies, as well as discovering and understanding their scientific foundations.
To learn more about this latest breakthrough, check out the following YouTube video (which includes some nanotech animations and interviews with our humans who explain the new technique).
You can also check out some pics from this technique here on Flickr.
Just don’t forget: It’s a small world after all.
I would be remiss if I didn’t relate the anniversary of September 28.
On this day, in 1989, IBM Fellow Don Eigler became the first person in history to move and control an individual atom.
It sounds like such a small thing…and it was. Extremely small.
The moving of the atom, that is.
The event itself was monumental and groundbreaking.
Shortly after, on November 11 of that year, Eigler and his team used a custom-built microscope to spell out the letters “IBM” using 35 Xenon atoms.
This unprecented ability to manipulate individual atoms signaled a quantum leap forward in nanoscience experimentation and heralded the age of nanotechnology.
Eigler built his scanning tunneling microscope (STM) in order to visualize and experiment with individual molecules and atoms. As he experimented, he discovered that it was possible to slide individual atoms across a surface using the tip of his STM.
To demonstrate both the atomic precision and reproducibility he achieved, he wrote the letters “IBM” with 35 xenon atoms, each positioned with atomic-scale precision.
In so doing, Eiger and team helped science move down the road of better understanding the properties, movement and interaction of various materials at the nanoscale, which proved to be essential for building smaller, faster and more energy-efficient processors and memory devices.
Already, the ability to understand and manipulate atoms is leading to new kinds of fabrics, products and more.
Ever wonder what makes a raincoat water resistant, or how sunscreen stays put even after swimming? More often than not, it’s nanotechnology at work.
Because of Eigler’s seminal work, scientists continue making breakthroughs that continue driving the field of nanotechnology, the exploration of building structures and devices out of ultra-tiny components as small as a few atoms or molecules.
Such devices might be used as future computer chips, storage devices, biosensors, and things nobody has even imagined.
Check out the two minute video below which includes a demonstration of the World’s Smallest IBM logo, along with a very interesting interview with Don Eigler.
And congratulations to Don and his team…theirs was a huge and groundbreaking effort on a ridiculously small scale, which is just the way his colleagues like it.