Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Conflicker so far a dud, but stay tuned"

Malware known as Conficker 2.0 was poised to strike on April Fools Day, but has so far proven to be a dud. Conficker is a malicious worm that has so far infected 9 million Windows-based PCs since it was a first detected in October 2008. Experts are unsure whether Conficker will simply display a harmless April Fools Day message or, for example, begin harvesting PC user names and passwords or even erase hard disks. Security experts advise that Windows PC users run their virus-scanning software today (March 31) to ensure they have downloaded and installed all the latest security system updates from Microsoft.

BOTTOM LINE: Conficker has begun upgrading itself to 2.0 status worldwide on more than nine million infected PCs. So far they have not begun performing any malicious behaviors, but the worm may be waiting until all the zombie PCs are updated before they join together into a worldwide botnet. The worm could also remain dormant until the whole world relaxes before it strikes.

Microsoft has set up a special Web site to assist users in thwarting Conficker.

"CHIPS: Freescale rolls 45-nm comms processors"

Freescale Semiconductor said it is sampling new communications processors based on its 45-nm process technology, The 45-nm PowerQUICC, dual-core QorIQ and six-core StarCore DSP, announced Tuesday (March 31) at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) Silicon Valley, aims to help OEMs build higher performance 3G and 4G wireless basestations that consume less power, Freescale said. Freescale said it is seeding OEMs with samples of its new 45-nm processors, which are currently being designed into a variety of wireless infrastructure equipment. The company expects to begin volume deliveries in the second half of 2009.

BOTTOM LINE: Freescale is leapfroging specialist communications processor makers like AMCC (Applied Micro Circuits Corp.), Cavium Networks, and RMI Inc. with its 45-nanometer parts at a time when smaller vendors are still producing 65- and 90-nanometer parts, leveraging its world-class semiconductor technologies. Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) switching to Freescale should reap significant performance benefits, as well as lower power consumption and cost.


"MEMS: New MEMS timing chip emerges"

A maker of MEMS timing chips is taking aim at a new market: voltage-controlled crystal oscillators (VCXO). Most timing chips are designed to remain steady, but VCXOs tune their precise frequency in response to data stream variations. SiTime Corp. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) is claiming to have a smaller solution called a voltage-controlled MEMS oscillator (VCMO). The current VCXO market includes chips used in set-top boxes, consumer and networked video, modems, data acquisition equipment and for instrumentation. They make up a $364 million market, according to an ABI Research survey. For comparison, the entire timing chip market is over $5 billion.

BOTTOM LINE: Micro-electro-mechanical system (MEMS) chips utilize tiny mechanisms to perform functions faster and more efficiently that pure electronic solutions--from deploying airbags to changing your iPhone's orientation from landscape to portrait. Now MEMS chips are poised to revolutionize the voltage-controlled oscillators that keep your cable modem and other video devices in-sync. Keep a watch on SiTime as a rising star in the MEMS device space, as it addresses the needs of more and more market segments.


"MATERIALS: Metrology specialist Semilab acquires AMS, QC Solutions"

Semilab Co. Ltd. (Budapest, Hungary) has acquired two Massachusetts-based metrology companies, Advanced Metrology Systems (AMS) and QC Solutions. The combined U.S. operations will be called Semilab AMS (Burlington, Mass.) and will be headed by the former AMS CEO Christopher Moore. Last year, Semilab acquired French metrology equipment specialist Sopra SA and metrology specialist SSM Inc. (Pittsburgh). With the acquisition of AMS and QC Solutions, Semilabs said it hopes to increase its presence among larger vendors.

BOTTOM LINE: Metrology allows chip makers to measure defects in integrated circuits after they are manufacturered, an essential function to perfect designs and insure quality control. Semilab already had a presence on the world stage, but by using its cash-on-hand to consolidate its access to major semiconductor vendors, it should emerge from the recession in a stronger position.


Monday, March 30, 2009

"MEMS: Algorithm could replace touch screens with MEMS control"

A new type of MEMS-based user interface enables 12 different device control functions while also eliminating expensive touch screens. Instead, a tri-axis accelerometer developed by Kionix Inc. (Ithica, N.Y.) uses embedded algorithms to detect single- or double-taps on the six faces of a consumer electronic device. For instance, a single front tap could silence a ringing phone or a double tap could send it to voice mail, eliminating the need for an expensive touch screen. For touch screen phones and music players, the tap-detection algorithms embedded in the Kionix accelerometer could also eliminated the need for a menu bar, instead allowing up to 12 menu items to be encoded as direction or double taps.

BOTTOM LINE: Original equipment manufacturer (OEMs) building consumer electronics can now take advantage of user actions based on tapping anywhere on the devices, without the need to add buttons. Also, devices with touch screens can eliminate the real-estate required for menus by allowing user-taps to cause the menu to appear and disappear. These capabilities should spur OEMs to choose Kionix accelerometers for their devices, since only Kionix has this directional-tap capability. It will also spawn similar capabilities from the other accelerometer makers like STMicro, Analog Devices, within the next year or two.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

"ENERGY: Silicon ingot maker Solaicx customizes gear for solar"

Solar cell ingot manufacturer Solaicx has developed its own manufacturing process for wafers used in solar panels. The result, it claims, is much higher solar conversion efficiencies. Solaicx's efforts to differentiate itself from traditional manufacturers of silicon ingots for solar applications has resulted in its receiving the Progressive Manufacturing 100 award for its proprietary manufacturing process. The process for crystalline silicon photovoltaics was cited for consistently high efficiency. The company's Progressive Manufacturing Award was in the "Innovation Mastery" category.

BOTTOM LINE: The world's only silicon ingot maker whose process is optimized for solar has raised the bar for solar cell makers who can make more efficient panels using wafers cut from their ingots at the same price as "graded" ingots from traditional silicon growers. The patented process could propel Solaicx to the forefront of the solar industry once the economy is back on track. Solaicx had originally planned to increase its capacity from 60 megaWatts to 300 megaWatts by the end of 2009, but in the dismal economy has pushed that back to 2010. Nevertheless, the company has a bright future by virtue of its proprietary process that produces superior solar cells at no price premium.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: Webscalers obsoletes Google, Yahoo and MSN?"

Webscalers, a startup at the Innovative Technologies Complex at Binghamton University, has a new slant on search engines that could obsolete Google. Instead of crawling the web and cataloging results, Webscalers will harness all the small search engines at individual sites to pool results. Other so-called meta-search engines exist, but they just pool results from Google, Yahoo and MSN. Webscalers, on the other hand, will ignore the big-name search engines, because they only search the 60 billion "surface" web pages, whereas the small specialized search engines on individual web sites reach down into the "deep" web of over 900 billion pages--15-times more information. Check out their prototypes at which combines the results from 1,800 news services in 200 countries.

BOTTOM LINE: Webscalers approach promises to find results to queries that are much more accurate and targets when compared to all the chaff you have to sift through when using Google. Ultimately, Webscalers promises to be able to answer questions directly instead of just returning relevant web pages. As their press release puts it: imagine asking "What do Americans think of universal health care?” and getting a report indicating trends in opinion based on what has been posted to the Web. Webcrawlers is still years away from a product, but if they can deliver on their promise, then Google may be relegated to becoming nothing more than an ad server for web pages.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

"MEMS: sensor targets fingerprints"

Sonavation's biometric sensor that relies on ultrasound technology is claimed to be the thinnest, most durable and accurate fingerprint sensor for wireless and smartcard applications. The SonicSlide STS3000, which is capable of more than 10 million swipes, uses patented technology comparable to that used in medical applications. The sensor is based on composite, ceramic MEMS technology, which is not affected by electrostatic discharge. The Micro-Electro Machine Systems technology is combined with advanced polymers to deliver high-resolution fingerprint images at low cost, according to the company.

BOTTOM LINE: This Micro-Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS) technology uses cheap polymers to deliver a very high resolution fingerprint images at very low cost. Using ultrasound enables Sonavation's biometric sensor to perform well despite its low cost. Look for this ID device to add security to laptops, mobile phones and other consumer electronic devices starting in 2010.

"MATERIALS: Graphene circuit combines Si, GaAs functions"

Graphene transistors could enable complex new circuits using relatively simple architectures, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who recently demonstrated a single transistor frequency multiplier. Graphene transistors can transport both electrons like a silicon transistor, and holes like a GaAs transistor, enabling graphene field-effect transistors that outperform both silicon and gallium arsenide.

BOTTOM LINE: Carbon is about 100-times faster that silicon, making graphene chips a potential candidate for replacing or augmenting today's microchip technology. Gallium arsenide is faster than silicon too, but incompatible. However graphene films can be fabricated atop silicon chips, permitting a smooth transition to the new technology. Look for super high-speed graphene chips to begin appearing within five years.

Monday, March 23, 2009

"ENERGY: Cold fusion experimentally confirmed"

U.S. Navy researchers claimed to have experimentally confirmed cold fusion in a presentation today at the American Chemical Society's annual meeting. Cold fusion was first reported in 1989 by researchers Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons, then with the University of Utah, prompting a global effort to develop the technology. Normal fusion reactions, where hydrogen is fused into helium, occur at millions of degrees inside the Sun. If room temperature fusion reactions could be realized commercially, as Fleishchmann and Pons claimed to have achieved inside an electrolytic cell, it promised to produce abundant nuclear energy from deuterium--heavy hydrogen--extracted from seawater. Other scientists were unable to duplicate the 1989 results, thereby discrediting the work. Now, the Naval researchers claim that the problem was instrumentation, which was not up to the task in 1989.

BOTTOM LINE: Nuclear fusion has held the promise of clean, cheap, plentiful energy for several decades now. After billions of dollars of research, however, we still are 20 year or more away from nuclear fusion reactors. The invention of cold fusion eliminates the need for duplicating the conditions on the surface of the Sun, where two hydrogen atoms are fused into helium releasing vast quantities of energy. However, despite the U.S. Navy's claim that it really does work, we are no closer to harnessing cold fusion for useful purposes as we are for duplicating the conditions on the Sun. Thus it will be at least 20 years, and probably more, before the promise of nuclear fusion is realized in real world applications.

"MEMS: QMEMS enables real-time clock oscillator"

A real-time clock oscillator unveiled by Epson Toyocom Corp. is said to require 70 percent less board space while occupying 75 percent less volume that its predecessor. The new real-time oscillator (SG-3050BC) uses Epson's proprietary QMEMS process to squeeze all functions into a 2.2- by 1.4- by 1-mm package. The 32.768-KHz crystal oscillator is claimed to be the smallest currently available.

BOTTOM LINE: QMEMS uses the same sort of photolithography, etching, metallization and sacrificial-layer removal steps as silicon MEMS chips, just with the quartz material. Consequently, their size is now rivaling the smallest MEMS oscillator chips. The MEMS makers say that QMEMS is not "real" MEMS, and the Epson says that silicon is less stable than quartz. One thing that QMEMS cannot do is be integrated with silicon chips the way Silicon Clocks allows its IP to be licensed by CMOS chip makers. In the end, the choice of MEMS or QMEMS will be best determined by the application engineer.

"MEMS: market slowed by auto makers' woes"

Slumping car sales will result in double-digit declines in the automotive MEMS sensor market, according to market researcher iSuppli Corp., which predicts that the automotive market for MEMS sensors will be down by 16 percent 2009, but will resume growth in 2010. Sensor mandates for airbag deployment, tire-pressure monitoring and advanced vehicle stability control are forcing car makers to add MEMS sensors to more models. That is offsetting the overall downturn in the global automobile market. Many current models already have three different MEMS sensors types: accelerometers for airbags, tire pressure sensors and a gyroscopes for stability control. All three systems will be mandatory on all U.S. passenger vehicles by 2012 and in European Union by 2014.

BOTTOM LINE: Micro-electro-mechanical systems is one of the few remaining bright spots in semiconductor manufacturing of late, but the abundance of automotive applications is dragging down MEMS growth. Mitigating factors are that more cars are getting MEMS sensors, by government mandate. Also more and more cell phones are getting MEMS chips to automatically switch from landscape to portait mode, among other things, which is also mitigating the economic downturn for MEMS devices. Nevertheless, 2009 will still be a slow year for MEMS.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"ENERGY: Solar cells Expand into Consumer Electronic Devices"

Solar cells are showing up in more consumer products as a result of green initiatives, according to Harry Zervos, Technology Analyst, IDTechEx (Cambridge, U.K.) Examples include the Vero ENB-100 Bluetooth kit (pictured) the world's first solar powered hands-free car kit. The first portable solar speakerphone is the R1 Solar Bluetooth Handsfree Kit. Samsung's Blue Earth is the first cell phone that charges up via the solar panel on its back which can generate enough power to make a call even when the battery is dead. Even lingerie maker Triumph International now has a Photovoltaic-Powered Bra which uses a solar panel to charge your iPod or cell phone.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"NANOTECH: Nanorods said to ease assembly of 3-D chip stacks"

Interconnecting bare die to form 3-D chip stacks is best done by low-temperature wafer bonding before dicing, according to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) researchers who described how to perform the process with nanoscale copper rods. Using a chemical vapor deposition technique, the researchers were able to demonstrate how "intermittent annealing" provided lower temperatures to melt the copper nano-rods, enabling safe bonding of wafers into a single stack that could then be diced into 3-D chips.

BOTTOM LINE: With the industry rushing toward 3D chip stacks, an increasing number of technques are being developed to bond wafers together before dicing them into chips. The reason is that aligning wafer handling tools are much more precise than chip handling tools, permitting smaller pads connecting layers through silicon vias. These researchers have found a way to harness nanotechnology to perform the wafer bonding at a very low temperature, which should bring 3D "cubes" of silicon to within reach in three to five years.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: High-temperature superconducting explained?"

Superconductors transport electrons with zero resistance by synchronizing their movement through changes in the internal structure of materials. Hence, no physical collisions occur. The exact character of these changes has been the subject of much speculation, prompting over 100,000 scholarly papers on the subject in the last 20 years. A novel theory developed by university reseachers in the U.S. and China now attempts to explain high-temperature superconductivity using a new class of materials discovered last year called iron pnictides (pronounced NIK-tides). The key to high-temperature superconductors, according to the new theory, is their different "quantum phases," which are similar to the difference between solids and liquids, according to researchers from Rice University, Rutgers University, Zhejiang University and the Los Alamos National Laboratory. Ice and water are two phases of H2O; above the critical melting point the molecules are ordered as solids, but below it they melt in a disordered liquid. Likewise, above its critical melting point, the quantum phase of high-temperature superconductors is antiferromagnetic; below it, they melt into magnetic disorder.

BOTTOM LINE: Superconductors can supply unlimited energy by virtue of their perpetual motion around coils whose resulting magnetic energy is used today for tasks that would otherwise be too expensive to power--such as levitating trains. Unfortunately, such superconductors have to be cooled to near absolute zero, the cost of which confines their applications to really big projects. High-temperature superconductors, on the other hand, reduce the cooling costs, but they are not well understood. These researchers claim to have an explanation for high-temperature superconductors that could lead to the fabrication of designer materials that supply perpetual-motion-like energy generation. The theory will be proven out experimentally within a year, and if its valid, could eventually lead to room-temperature superconductors within our decade.

Monday, March 16, 2009

"MATERIALS: Samsung looks to print flexible electronics"

Samsung and its university research partners claim to have overcome two of the last hurdles to large-scale printable electronics on plastic substrates: an n-type organic semiconductor material and a patterning method for separately fabricating nano- and micro-wire transistor channels. Solutions to both problems, using self-aligning organic transistor channels with performance that rivals amorphous silicon, were demonstrated by Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (Gyunggi-do, South Korea), Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.) and Sungkyunkwan University (Suwon, South Korea). The researchers claimed their technique is amenable to printable plastic electronics applications such as large-scale displays, sensor arrays, smart merchandise tags, flexible solar panels and digital paper.

BOTTOM LINE: Printable electronics lowers the cost of devices by using room-temperature fluidic deposition on cheap plastic substrates. N-type transistors, however, have been difficult to fabricate, slowing progress toward large-scale printable electronics. Now Samsung appears to have solved the problem with a self-aligning technique, opening the door to applications within five years.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"NANOTECH: Nanowires could make fuel cells commercially viable"

Woven nano-wire electrodes could provide hydrogen fuel cells the boost needed to make them commercially viable, according to a University of Rochester researchers. Nanowires have aspect ratios in the millions, enabling them to expose thousands of times more surface area than traditional platinum electrodes, thereby potentially boosting efficiency, reducing cost and increasing the longevity of hydrogen fuel cells. Li previously perfected a method of spinning out polymer nanowires with extremely high aspect ratios. He adapted the technique to spinning out individual platinum nanowires that are centimeters long but only nanometers wide. The resulting woven nanowire electrodes require much less platinum than traditional electrodes, potentially extending fuel cells beyond niche markets and into mainstream applications.

BOTTOM LINE: There are many things holding back the predicted hydrogen economy where consumers will drive electric-motor powered cars whose energy is supplied by fuel cells. One hold-up is the speed and efficiency with which electrical energy can be drawn from and supplied to fuel cells during driving and recharging, respectively. Woven nanowire electrodes appear to provide a solution to the efficiency problem, but are still in the proof-of-concept stage, whereas rival electrode technologies using nanoparticle coatings are further along in development. Durability tests will ultimately decide whether nanowires or nanoparticles provide the best solution, but the hold-up to commercialization also involves developing a hydrogen infrastructure for refueling cars, so we may see this technology first used for powering portable devices, within three years.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"ENERGY: MIT advance recharges batteries in seconds"

Lithium-ion batteries can be recharged in seconds using a surface treatment invented by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. By fabricating nano-scale grooves atop traditional lithium iron phosphate material, battery cells could be recharged up to 36 times faster (as little as 10 seconds) instead of six minutes or more per cell. The improved batteries also release energy more quickly, meaning they also could be used to boost acceleration in electric and hybrid cars at rates comparable to gasoline-powered engines. MIT researchers estimate that the ease with which the new technique can be applied to existing lithium-ion batteries, for which MIT has applied for a patent and already licensed to two companies, will begin appearing in commercial products in as little as two years.

BOTTOM LINE: Recharging batteries in seconds will revolutionize the wireless device industry by solving the last remaining stumbling block. Wireless recharging schemes, to appear later this year from Witricity and Fulton Innovations, can trickle charge batteries without requiring a physical connection, which makes sense when it took hours to recharge. However, if it only takes 10 seconds to recharge, wireless schemes loose much of their appeal. Since the innovation only involves modifying the way that lithium-ion batteries are constructed--adding a surface treatment to the bulk material--we could see batteries with under-a-minute recharge times in as little as two years. The biggest significance of the breakthrough will come from electric automobiles, since MIT's technology claims to make them a viable alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles, since recharging will take about the same time an filling your tank with gas does today, and the batteries will be able to deliver enough acceleration to satisfy the hot-rod in all of us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"CHIPS: Electronics designed to endure the cold of space"

Spacecraft require heaters to protect their electronics from the cold, which for Moon missions can extend down to cryogenic temperatures below minus 150 degrees C (-238 F). Eliminating the extra expense, weight and power consumption of "warm boxes" used to house electronics was the goal of University of Arkansas electrical engineers who presented their design for electronic building blocks that can function down to minus 180 degrees C at this week's IEEE Aerospace Conference (March 7-14, Big Sky, Mont.).

BOTTOM LINE: An amplifier is only one part of the electronics typically needed to condition a raw sensor's output for recording and analysis, but its a start. If the other components needed inside NASA's "warm boxes" can likewise be cast in cryrogenic circuitry like the amplifier here, then a big impact could be made on the expense, weight, and power consumption of spacecraft. Note how the input, output and common-mode feedback circuits are isolated from one another physically (in the photo). Ultra-low-temperature circuitry is clearly more complex--a decade might pass before all the components in today's "warm box" can be cast in cryrogenic temperature chips.

Monday, March 09, 2009

"NANOTECH: Light-emitting nanotube efficiency boosted"

Light-emitting nanotubes (LENs) have been demonstrated by IBM and others, but their efficiency has been mysteriously lower than theory would predict. Now researchers claim to have discovered the mechanism limiting efficiency along with a remedy to the problem. The 40-fold boost in efficiency to 20 percent, enough to perhaps make LENs commercially viable, was reported by University of Connecticut professor Fotios Papadimitrakopoulos working with in collaboration with the university's Institute of Material Science and Nanomaterials Optoelectronics Laboratory.

BOTTOM LINE: Optics on silicon chips would lower costs compared to gallium arsenide, but has been slow developing because of the silicon's lack of a suitable band-gap. Now researchers claim that integrating light-emitting carbon nanotubes with silicon will enable optical busses with performance rivaling what we get today with expensive gallium arsenside chips. LIght emitting nanotube were, until now, too inefficient for commercialization, but Papadimitrakopoulos group appears to have pinpointed the problem and offered a solution. The technique uses organic materials today to shear off damaging oxygen contamination, but he claims that within a few years inorganic techniques will enable super-durable optical chips integrating silicon with carbon.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

"3D: 'Virtual Cocoon' aims to engage all senses"

By engaging all five senses in a wrap-around headset, a team of U.K. scientists are aiming for what they call "real virtuality," a term used to describe their goal of rendering an experience so vivid that users cannot tell it from the real thing. The researchers unveiled an early prototype of their "Virtual Cocoon" at a research conference in London this week. Funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the team led by professor David Howard, an electronics engineer at the University of York (England), will pool the expertise of university researchers across the U.K. ' For more than a decade, virtual reality has promised to provide immersive environments that can simulate different places and times for applications as diverse as military training to archaeology. Most previous attempts, however, concentrated on sight and hearing. Developers of the "Virtual Cocoon" claim it is the first attempt to render all five senses with a fidelity that rivals natural experiences.

BOTTOM LINE: Virtual reality has been a decade away for decades is seems. Nevertheless, these researchers will be the first to attempt to write algorithms that synthesize experiences involving all five senses. The project is just in the early stages, so estimates of possible results and a timeline are sketchy, but plan to keep an eye on this one for valuable contributions regarding optimization of multi-sensor fusion.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

"ALGORITHMS: 3D-TV scheme seeks to replace regular TVs"

As TV makers ready 3-D models, a company called Dynamic Digital Depth claims its automatic 2-D-to-3-D conversion algorithms could help replace conventional TVs. Parent company DDD Group plc (Santa Monica, Calif.) argues that several dozen 3-D movie titles are not enough to persuade wary consumers to buy a dedicated 3-D display. By including automatic 2-D-to-3-D conversion for regular TV, PC games and even the user's own images, the company says 3-D TVs may be poised to eventually displace regular TVs altogether.

BOTTOM LINE: 3D technologies have come into vogue, then gone out-of-style repeatedly--even before the invention of photography. DDD is seeking to turn 3D into an enduring reality by allowing the viewer to switch it on or off at will. DDD's 2D-to-3D conversion algorithms should bridge the gap between relatively rare native 3D content today and the voracious appetite of 3D early adopters. If it can be incorporated cheaply enough, then every future TV could become 3D enabled. I believe that 3D is here to stay, but the public is fickle and in the end it will be up to viewers to support 3D by actually using the button that DDD is seeking to put on every remote control. Look for 3D TV models from every major maker by 2010, many of which will be available by Christmas 2008.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

"ENERGY: Sun converts carbon dioxide into usable fuel"

Turning carbon diode into methane, a combustible fuel that can be burned instead of gasoline and natural gas, can be accomplished with a new invention that harnesses the energy of the sun, according to researchers at Penn State University. By using arrays of nitrogen-doped titania nanotubes, sputter-coated with an ultrathin layer of a metallic catalysts, the ultraviolet wavelengths from the sun converts carbon dioxide into methane.

BOTTOM LINE: If this invention works as described, it could replace fossil fuels with a technology that actually reduced green house gases instead of producing them. So far the laboratory demonstration does not have the capacity to replace gasoline or natural gas, but the researchers claim that engineering optimizations could remedy that shortcoming. The best part is that energy from the sun powers the technique. Look for commercial versions for portable applications within five years.

Monday, March 02, 2009

"NANOTECH: IBM researchers discover way to cool carbon transistors"

Carbon nanotube transistor channels are so small--a single nanometer thick--that heat has a hard time transferring to a nanotube substrate. The gap between nanotube and its silicon oxide substrate thermally insulates the nanotube, meaning heat builds up in the structure rather than dissipating. IBM researchers claim to have found a possible means of cooling carbon-based transistors by directly coupling their electric current fields with those of a silicon substrate. Solving a heat-dissipation problem brings carbon-based transistors one step closer to commercialization, they said. (click story title for full text).

BOTTOM LINE: Carbon-based transistors--either using nanotubes or flattened out sheets of graphene--promise to accelerate electronics with the faster operation of so-called ballistic transport mechanisms. However, integrating carbon into the semiconductor fabrication process, alongside current silicon materials, is a daunting task. One problem, dissipating heat from carbon which does not chemically bond well to silicon, has plagued device designers, but may now be solved by IBM. The verdict is still being formulated, but if thermally coupling can be accomplished with electric fields, as IBM suggests, then one crippling obstacle to commercialization will be surmounted. Look for carbon-transistors to appear in commercial chips within five to ten years.