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Stanford Engineers Build Basic Computer Using Carbon Nanotubes

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This wafer contains tiny computers using carbon nanotubes, a material that could lead to smaller, more energy-efficient processors.Image Source: Stanford University; Photo Credit: Norbert von der Groeben)

A team of Stanford University engineers has built a basic computer using carbon nanotubes, a semiconductor material that has the potential to launch a new generation of electronic devices that run faster, while using less energy, than those made from silicon chips. This unprecedented feat culminates years of efforts by scientists around the world to harness this promising but quirky material. The research was led by Stanford professors Subhasish Mitra and H.-S. Philip Wong. "People have been talking about a new era of carbon nanotube electronics moving beyond silicon," said Mitra, an electrical engineer and computer scientist. "But there have been few demonstrations of complete digital systems using this exciting technology. Here is the proof." Experts say the Stanford achievement will galvanize efforts to find successors to silicon chips, which could soon encounter physical limits that might prevent them from delivering smaller, faster, cheaper electronic devices. "Carbon nanotubes [CNTs] have long been considered as a potential successor to the silicon transistor," said Professor Jan Rabaey, a world expert on electronic circuits and systems at the University of California-Berkeley. But until now it hasn't been clear that CNTs could fulfill those expectations. "There is no question that this will get the attention of researchers in the semiconductor community and entice them to explore how this technology can lead to smaller, more energy-efficient processors in the next decade," Rabaey said.