Has IBM hacked mother nature? The company has harnessed the secret that enables snowflakes, seashells and tooth enamel to generate themselves, using the process to make computer chips that work 35% faster and use 15% less energy than the most advanced technology currently available.
The process coats a silicon wafer with self-generating polymers that create trillions of holes. These in turn create airless vacuums around nanoscale wiring, solving the problem of capacitance — the tendency of conductors to siphon energy from one another. Capacitance slows data transfer and wastes energy in the form of heat. The usual method of fighting it is to force more energy through the chip. But using self-generating nanotechnology to eliminate capacitance makes chips faster, smaller, and more energy efficient. IBM says it's the equivalent of two generations of Moore's Law, which states that new advances double processing power every two years.
No mere blue-sky technology, this process will move in 2009 "from lab to fab," as one IBM researcher enthusiastically put it, on the company's assembly line in East Fishkill, New York. It will eventually find its way into IBM servers and chips made for other companies.