Researchers at IBM are farming nanowires, growing wires a thousand times thinner than a human hair like microscopic silicon bonsai trees. This image shows the wires sprouting silicon.
The company hopes this new method will enable it to manufacture increasingly small computer chips.
While Moore's Law states that circuit density doubles each year, therefore enabling devices to increase their computing power even as they shrink in size, many industry watchers fear Moore's Law has reached its end, and that there are finite limits to hose small a circuit may be. In an attempt to keep our computers shrinking, companies like IBM have been trying to build a better nanowire, something that can effectively transmit data, but can only be viewed through an electron microscope.
Much of the research into nanowire manufacture involves advanced photolithographic techniques: making the incredibly small wires through photo etching. But Frances Ross, a researcher at IBM, takes a very different approach. Rather than cutting silicon into microscopic slices, she's developing a process for growing the wires in a lab, bit by bit. She sprinkles gold nanoparticles on the ends of the wires, then suffuses the particles with a superheated silicon gas. The particles become saturated with the silicon gas, and solid silicon begins to form at the end of the wire, producing the gradually growing wires you see above.
The effect is pretty, but the technology is still a ways off from usability. In order for her nanowires to be useful for chip makers, Ross will need to find a way to keep the surfaces of each wire perfectly regular and uniform.