Researchers at IBM’s US-based laboratories and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a new method to use DNA – the building blocks of human bodies – to create next-gen microchips that are faster, cheaper and more energy efficient.
Artificial DNA nanostructures, or "DNA origami" may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips, according to a paper published on Sunday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology. What this means is that such DNA molecules can be used as scaffolds (mini circuit boards) for carbon nanotubes, nanowires and nanoparticles to assemble themselves into precise patterns.
"This is the first demonstration of using biological molecules to help with processing in the semiconductor industry," IBM research manager Spike Narayan told Reuters. "Basically, this is telling us that biological structures like DNA actually offer some very reproducible, repetitive kinds of patterns that we can actually leverage in semiconductor processes."
The research might help manufacturers such as IBM, Intel and AMD keep up with Moore’s Law, which states that the number of transistors on a circuit roughly double every two years. The biggest obstacle to keeping up with Moore’s Law is developing smaller and smaller chipsets.
IBM’s new research, the company says, could help chip manufacturers move from 45-nanometer processor technology to 22-nm or lower. The smaller size results in computer chips that are more powerful, faster, more energy efficient and easier to manufacture.
"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," said Narayan. "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."
But the new processes are at least 10 years out. Narayan said that while the DNA origami could allow chipmakers to build frameworks that are far smaller than possible with conventional tools, the technique still needs years of experimentation and testing.