IBM announced today it is investing $3 billion for R&D in two research programs to push the limits of chip technology and extend Moore’s law.
The research programs are aimed at “7 nanometer and beyond” silicon technology and developing alternative technologies for post-silicon-era chips using entirely different approaches, IBM says.
IBM will be investing especially in carbon nanoelectronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies, and architectures that support quantum and cognitive computing.
7 nanometer technology and beyond
IBM researchers and other semiconductor experts predict that semiconductors show promise to scale from today’s 22 nanometers down to 14 and then 10 nanometers in the next several years.
However, scaling down to 7 nanometers by the end of the decade will require significant investment and innovation in semiconductor architectures as well as invention of new tools and techniques for manufacturing, IBM says.
Below 7 nanometers, the challenges dramatically increase, requiring a new kind of materials to power systems of the future, such as carbon nanotubes and graphene; and new computational approaches, such as quantum computing. and neurosynaptic computing.
Carbon Nanotubes. IBM Researchers are exploring whether carbon nanotube (CNT) electronics can replace silicon beyond the 7 nm node. IBM recently demonstrated two-way CMOS NAND gates using 50 nm gate-length carbon nanotube transistors, a first.
IBM also has demonstrated the capability for purifying carbon nanotubes to 99.99%, the highest (verified) purities demonstrated to date, and transistors at 10 nm channel length that show no degradation due to scaling. Modeling of the electronic circuits suggests that about a five to ten times improvement in performance compared to silicon circuits is possible with CNTs.
Graphene. Graphene — pure carbon in the form of a one-atomic-layer-thick sheet — is an excellent conductor of heat and electricity, and it is also remarkably strong and flexible. Electrons can move in graphene about ten times faster than in commonly used semiconductor materials such as silicon and silicon germanium. That means faster switching transistors. In 2013, IBM demonstrated the world’s first graphene-based integrated-circuit receiver front-end for wireless communications.