Researchers detail programmable nanoprocessor

Summary:Researchers at Harvard University and the Mitre Corporation have given details of what they believe to be the world's first programmable nanoprocessor, representing a significant step forward in the march to ever-smaller transistors

Researchers at Harvard University and the Mitre Corporation have detailed the architecture for a programmable nanoprocessor built out of ultra-small 'nanowires'.

The nanoprocessor, outlined in a Nature article published on Wednesday, is formed of 496 non-volatile field effect transistor (FET) nodes arranged in a 960-micrometre square area, overlaid with semiconductor materials.

Harvard nanoprocessor image

Researchers at Harvard University and the Mitre Corporation have detailed the architecture for a programmable nanoprocessor built out of ultra-small 'nanowires'. Photo credit: Charles Lieber

"This work represents a quantum jump forward in the complexity and function of circuits built from the bottom up," said Charles Lieber, who led the research, in a statement. "[The work] demonstrates that this bottom-up paradigm, which is distinct from the way commercial circuits are built today, can yield nanoprocessors and other integrated systems of the future."

Each nanowire is built from a 10-nanometre diameter germanium nanowire core and a two-nanometre thick silicon shell. The nanowires can be operated as individual transistors by passing current through metal wires woven through the layer of semiconductor materials above them.

This work represents a quantum jump forward in the complexity and function of circuits built from the bottom up.

– Charles Lieber, Harvard University

The nanowire transistors are non-volatile, so once their state has been defined by the passing of current through the semiconductor over-lattice they require no additional power to maintain memory. The researchers say in the Nature paper that the circuits do have limitations in comparison with industry-standard CMOS circuits, although projections suggest that the density, speed and power consumption can be further improved.

"Because of their very small size and very low power requirements, these new nanoprocessor circuits are building blocks that can control and enable an entirely new class of much smaller, lighter-weight electronic sensors and consumer electronics," said Shamik Das, lead engineer in Mitre's Nanosystems Group, in the statement.

One particular application would be for the use in embedded electronic systems and new types of therapeutic devices, according to Nature.

"This new nanoprocessor represents a major milestone toward realising the vision of a nanocomputer that was first articulated more than 50 years ago by physicist Richard Feynman," said James Ellenbogen, a chief scientist at Mitre, in the statement.


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Topics: Emerging Tech

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Jack Clark has spent the past three years writing about the technical and economic principles that are driving the shift to cloud computing. He's visited data centers on two continents, quizzed senior engineers from Google, Intel and Facebook on the technologies they work on and read more technical papers than you care to name on topics f... Full Bio

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