A couple of weeks back, I explained that one of the problems with keeping Moore's Law going is the extraordinary amount of heat that's created as ever smaller transistors are being placed in ever closer proximity to one another.
Creating the interconnects -- the small wires that link transistors -- is also becoming more problematic. Back in the late 1990s, semiconductor manufacturers switched from aluminum to copper to address the issue, but now even copper is running into problems.
The wire interconnects are getting so thin that the electrons buzzing through them are beginning to bounce into individual metal atoms in the copper.
The problem is manageable for now, but as the interconnects continue to decrease in size, the amount of resistance can be expected to increase in a corresponding fashion. Think of the electrons as students moving between classes in a crowded school where the hallways are being shrunk in half every 18 months. At first, the students won't be able to get to their classes as quickly, and eventually they won't be able to move at all.
Now, Intel is not the first company to announce that it is working with carbon nanotubes. Earlier this year, I wrote about some work that IBM
The next obstacle for Intel to overcome will be to demonstrate that it can reliably mass manufacture carbon nanotubes with uniform properties, and then place them exactly where they need to go.
This a huge challenge, but as I noted last week in a story about Nantero using carbon nanotubes in a mass production semiconductor fabrication process for the construction of a high density memory component, it is clear that these obstacles can be overcome. And the company that first masters the trick could very well gain a big and important leg up on its competitors.
Check out these other nanotech-related articles:
- Nucryst Still Licking Its Wounds
- TINY's Investment Inches Closer to Payoff
- Nanotech and the War on Cancer
- Symyx Homes In on the Right Mix
Nantero is a portfolio company of Harris & Harris
Fool contributor Jack Uldrich is the author of two books on nanotechnology, including Investing in Nanotechnology: Think Small, Win Big. He owns stock in Intel, IBM, and Harris & Harris.The Fool has a strict disclosure policy.