McGill University, Sandia Researchers Jointly Develop 15 nm Circuits

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A team of scientists from Canada’s McGill University and Sandia National Laboratories have reported development of world’s smallest electronic circuits. First published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the researchers said that they have built a circuit that has two nanowires separated by the distance of 150 atoms or 15 nanometers (nm). While the McGill team was led by Guillaume Gervais of the University’s physics department, Mike Lilly led the team from Sandia National Laboratories.

According to the researchers, they have developed one of the smallest electronic circuits, which could pave the way for smaller and more powerful mobile semiconductor devices. In fact, as per the paper in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the discovery could have a significant effect on the speed and power of the ever smaller ICs of the future in everything from smartphones to desktop computers, televisions and GPS systems.

In fact, the researchers claimed that this is the first time anyone has studied how nanowires behave and interact in an electronic circuit when packed so tightly together. The principle used here is Coulomb drag effect. The researchers discovered that the Coulomb drag effect enables a current in one wire to produce a current in the other one that is either in the same or the opposite direction. “This discovery, based on the principles of quantum physics, suggests a need to revise our understanding of how even the simplest electronic circuits behave at the nanoscale,” said the researchers.

In addition, this discovery could also help to solve one of the major challenges facing future computer design, the heat. Speculating on this development, well-known theorist Markus Büttiker stated, “It may be possible to harness the energy lost as heat in one wire by using other wires nearby. He added, “These findings will have an impact on the future of both fundamental and applied research in nanoelectronics.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at research firm Moor Insights & Strategy, told PCWorld, “Smaller circuits, if they can be brought cost-effectively into production, mean smaller chips and systems-on-a-chip]." He added, "Our devices, like phones, tablets, PCs and living room devices, can either do a lot more and provide a better experience or use even less power and become even smaller than they were before."

PCWorld quoted another analyst Dan Olds of the Gabriel Consulting Group, as saying, “Research into circuits at this scale help us understand how to manufacture chips at smaller scales and how to handle the heat that's produced. This kind of research also uncovers other potential problems arising from ever smaller shrinks." Olds added, "Getting to 15 nm or 16 nm will mean smaller and more powerful devices that are more energy efficient. But, when we're talking about such a small scale, designing chips that can be mass-produced with decent yields is quite a challenge.”


Ashok Bindra is a veteran writer and editor with more than 25 years of editorial experience covering RF/wireless technologies, semiconductors and power electronics. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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