The Self-Assembling Computer Chips of the Future

Karl Skjonnemand speaks about the miniaturization of transistors and the digital revolution, as well as a new form of manufacturing called, “directed self-assembly.”

The transistors that power our phones are unimaginably small: you can fit more than 3,000 of them across the width of a human hair.

But to keep up with innovations in fields like facial recognition and augmented reality, we need to pack even more computing power into our computer chips — and we’re running out of space.

This means that what our software can do has the potential to be slowed down by our hardware.

As well, the current miniaturization and manufacturing process is so complex and expensive that the existing approach is questionable in terms of long-term viability.

Quantum computers and neural networks offer some long-term solutions, but we need more immediate solutions.

Nanotechnology and miniaturization have increased performance and lowered cost.

In brief, we’re talking about molecular engineering and mimicking nature down to nanoscale dimensions via self-assembly, like in nature.

We are using molecular engineering to self-assemble nanoscale structures that can be lines or cylinders the size and periodicity of our design.

We use chemical engineering to manufacture the nanoscale features that we need for our transistors.

But that only takes us half way, because we still need to position these structures where we want the transistors to be placed in the integrated circuits. We can accomplish this relatively easy by using wide guide structures that pin down the self-assembled structures, anchoring them in place and forcing the rest of the self-assembled structures to lie parallel aligned with our guide structure.

We call this “directed self-assembly.”

The challenge is that all this needs to align almost perfectly because any defect can cause transistor failure.

This is still in the development stage.

But if we can do this, we can continue with the cost-effective miniaturization of transistors, continue with the spectacular expansion of computing and digital revolution. This could even be the dawn of a new era of molecular manufacturing.