Sunday, February 24, 2008

NYTimes: Trying to Put New Zip Into Moore’s Law

"Mr. Edelstein is leading a team of researchers from inside and outside I.B.M. in developing a new way to solve the problem: using “self assembling” nanotechnology to make better insulators, raising performance. In this case, self-assembly involves creating so-called airgaps, vacuums a few nanometers wide that keep the billions of tiny copper wires in a chip from touching one another, instead of putting down a layer of insulating material and trying to align it effectively at the nanoscale. It’s more efficient, and it means that I.B.M. won’t need to spend $50 million on photolithographic equipment.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Edelstein took me on a tour of the fab in East Fishkill, N.Y., that will be the first to use the self-assembly technique. While the technique is not quite done being tested, John E. Kelly III, I.B.M.’s senior vice president for research, says that “there is no question in our minds this is going to work,” and that I.B.M. will move to it by 2009, first for an existing high-end processor or a next-generation chip, then across its fabs.
Mr. Kelly says Mr. Edelstein has a “unique” ability to solve problems and work across the company to commercialize new technologies. In the last decade, he has led two other important breakthroughs, most notably the use of copper for the wires inside chips, replacing aluminum.
Each time, Mr. Edelstein has done it by working with a small group of two or three scientists to explore out-of-the-mainstream approaches to problems. He also goes beyond research, getting to know the manufacturing team to help him understand what it takes to get a novel technique into I.B.M.’s existing manufacturing process. (Becoming acquainted with the team is no small feat at a plant like the one in East Fishkill, which was designed to resemble an integrated circuit, creating an erratic hall structure that still befuddles Mr. Edelstein, even though he generally visits it once a week. ) "

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