A basic law of the road is that traffic can slow to a crawl when the highway narrows to one lane, creating bottlenecks and crabby drivers.
Integrated circuits have a similar problem. The narrower the copper wires connecting the transistors on a computer chip, the greater their resistance to electricity, and the more slowly they transmit information.
This phenomenon, called interconnect delay, puts the brakes on the processing speed of smartphones, tablets, PCs and all manner of computerized devices. That's because the wires in a typical computer chip are very narrow indeed: with a width of about 22 nanometers, a bundle of a thousand is no bigger than a human hair.
"Those wires have been getting thinner and thinner, because people want their chips to do more and more things, and for that you need more and more transistors, billions on a single chip," said
Hu has something up his sleeve. With a
Hu's target is the interconnect delay. To overcome it, he will be designing chips that replace those copper wires with carbon nanotubes or graphene.
"They are not regular matter," he says. "They have superconductivity and are much better materials for circuitry."
"This project has the potential to revolutionize the prevailing circuit design paradigm, which could eventually lead to a vast improvement in our quality of life," Hu said.
Hu came to
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