Researchers apply synthetic DNA to explore next frontier in processors

Just as the makers of microprocessors appear to be reaching the practical limits of integrated circuits, researchers could be opening new frontiers in chip technology by making use of DNA molecules.

Scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center in San Jose, Calif., and the California Institute of Technology are developing a method of using synthetic viral DNA origami structures as a sort of scaffolding, which could host carbon nanotubes, according to an article by the researchers in the September issue of Nature Nanotechnology. The nanotubes would self-assemble into patterns within the DNA structures, essentially creating a new type of transistor.

Processors speeds have increased steadily for decades, as chip-makers crowd more transistors on silicon wafers, working down to the current 45-nanometer level, with 22-nm chips expected in 2014. After that, however, the expense of working at ever-smaller levels is expected to be prohibitive to producing faster chips.

With the DNA approach, the structures could be placed on silicon wafers using current manufacturing techniques, which would make working below the 22-nm level affordable.

Researchers say DNA chips could help them keep up with Moore’s Law, which, though not an actual law, fortunately is treated as such by processor-makers. It’s in their DNA.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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