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The Future of Nanotech

Nanotechnology: Why It Matters

Matthew Nordan, President of Lux Research
Interest in nanotech is strong because standard silicon techniques have nearly reached their limit--CPUs and similar products can't get much smaller with current technology because makers can't keep stuffing more and more transistors in the same space. With nanotech, they can.

Materials shrunk to a few billionths of a meter go crazy. Magnets demagnetize, and conventional techniques of semiconductor information processing--used for everything from storing data to moving bits and bytes around your PC--don't work. But though the rules change, they can be exploited in ways that offer more, not less, functionality and speed. And it will all eventually cost less, too.

This is the world of nanotechnology, and you're already starting to live in it. "The whole trillion-dollar information technology industry is based on the continuing drive of miniaturization," says Thomas Theis, director of physical sciences at IBM's Watson Research Center. Imagine, he says, how big that economy can be when you can get a million times the complexity of today's information systems for the same dollars.

Nanotech research by government and private industry promises to create breakthroughs across information technology--creating dramatically faster, smaller, and cheaper devices that will permit ubiquitous computing, some forms of which we haven't conceived of yet--along with enhancing just about everything else humans make.

"We and others are using nanotechnology to create smaller and smaller chips that have more and more power and communicate with everything around them," comments Nantero CEO Greg Schmergel. "Everything in your home and office and car will have intelligence and the information you need."

Special Package: Tomorrow's Technology

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Tech Enabler: The Carbon Nanotube

Carbon nanotubes are vastly stronger than steel, and conduct heat and electricity superbly. They will appear in everything from CPUs to batteries to heat sinks. They're molecules formed from a single layer of carbon atoms. Single-walled nanotubes range from 1-billionth to 3-billionths of a meter in diameter and, when magnified, resemble a roll of chicken wire.

Nantero's NRAM uses carbon nanotubes and combines the speed of SRAM, the density of DRAM, and the nonvolatility of flash memory. The company hopes to begin shipping products in late 2007.

NRAM stores data by changing each carbon nanotube's proximity to an electrode; current flows to the electrode only when the nanotube is in its on state. Earlier this year IBM announced creation of the first complete electronic integrated circuit built around a single carbon nanotube, using standard semiconductor processes. It's an important step toward integrating carbon nanotubes into chips.

Special Package: Tomorrow's Technology

The Future of Your PC The Future of Robots
The Future of Cell Phones The Future of Privacy
The Future of the Web The Future of Nanotech
The Future of OSs The Future of You
The Future of Fun 100 Fearless Forecasts
Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back

Nanotech's Power and Promise

Five ways nanotech will be tapped in the next five years:

Chip fabrication: Extreme ultraviolet lithography employs a series of mirrors to direct 13-nanometer-wavelength light to print features at the 32-nanometer scale. The smaller scale will yield chips that run much faster.

Heat sinks: Carbon nanotubes promise several times greater thermal efficiency in connecting today's ever-faster and ever-hotter silicon to heat sinks.

Nonvolatile memory: Manufacturers are competing furiously to commercialize nanotech-based memory. In July, Freescale Semiconductor began shipping its Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM) chips, which have many of the same benefits as Nantero's NRAM (discussed above). MRAM should first replace battery-backed SRAM in networking, security, gaming, and data storage products. Eventually, it will also make its way into cell phones and PCs.

Batteries: Already on the market, lithium ion batteries using multiwalled nanotubes are safer and more effective, with up to ten times the life and five times the available power, according to some makers. Other dramatic battery enhancements are on the way as capacitors improve exponentially.

DVD: Quantum dots--semiconductor crystals that are just a few nanometers wide--provide the needed precision for Blu-ray and HD DVD blue lasers.

Special Package: Tomorrow's Technology

The Future of Your PC The Future of Robots
The Future of Cell Phones The Future of Privacy
The Future of the Web The Future of Nanotech
The Future of OSs The Future of You
The Future of Fun 100 Fearless Forecasts
Incredible Tech: Lies Ahead A Look Back
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