Future PCs to be made from tiny carbon tubes

Could future PC processors be made from millions of tiny carbon tubes?

Future PC processors will be made minute tiny tubes of carbon, according to IBM. Its scientists have been working on the new technique that could fundamentally change the way processors are made in the future.

The method is reliant on the interactions between electrons and phonons and means the boffins can study the electrical behaviour of tiny carbon nanotubes, a material that shows promise as a building block for much smaller, faster and lower power computer chips compared to today's silicon transistors.

The tubes of carbon measure less than 2 nanometers in diameter, 50,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair.

Phonons are the atomic vibrations that occur inside materials. They determine thermal and electrical conductivity of each material while electrons carry and produce the current. Both are important features of materials that can be used to carry electrical signals - and be used to calculate instructions.

The interaction between electrons and phonons can release heat and impede electrical flow. By looking at this within the carbon nanotubes it means the scientists can look at their suitability as electrical conductors like those inside a computer chip.

Now the scientists are working to demonstrate the high speed and low power consumption capabilities of the so-called nanostructures. "The success of nanoelectronics will largely depend on the ability to prepare well characterized and reproducible nanostructures, such as carbon nanotubes," said Dr. Phaedon Avouris, an IBM Fellow. "Using this technique, we are now able to see and understand the local electronic behavior of individual carbon nanotubes."

So far the researchers have been able to build carbon nanotube transistors with superior performance, but have been challenged with reproducibility issues due to environmental influences.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.