"NEM switches consist of a nanostructure (such as a carbon nanotube or nanowire) that deflects mechanically under electrostatic forces to make or break contact with an electrode," said Horacio Espinosa, James N. and Nancy J. Farley Professor in Manufacturing and Entrepreneurship at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern University.
Our dearth of carbon “breakthrough” announcements didn’t get to last out a week. Barely had my last article made it onto the Graphite blog and Mr, Owen Loh, a PhD student at Northwestern University and co-author of the paper, currently at Intel, was co-publishing a paper on a big advance in the next generation of integrated circuits setting out to replace silicon.
According to the paper these new carbon based devices have now been developed to the reliability level of the long established silicon circuits. Since silicon circuits have about reached the end of power consumption efficiency and heat tolerance, carbon nanoelectronics has long been seen as the next step. This paper suggests that advance is now about to jump from the lab into commercial applications. As mentioned in the article Mr. Loh is “currently at Intel.” My guess is that we will hear more about this later in the year.
Next-Generation Nanoelectronics: A Decade of Progress, Coming Advances
ScienceDaily (May 3, 2012) — Traditional silicon-based integrated circuits are found in many applications, from large data servers to cars to cell phones. Their widespread integration is due in part to the semiconductor industry's ability to continue to deliver reliable and scalable performance for decades.
—- "NEM devices with commonly-used metal electrodes often fail by one of a variety of failure modes after only a few actuation cycles," said Owen Loh, a PhD student at Northwestern University and co-author of the paper, currently at Intel.
Simply by replacing the metal electrodes with electrodes made from conductive diamond-like carbon films, the group was able to dramatically improve the number of cycles these devices endure. Switches that originally failed after fewer than 10 cycles now operated for 1 million cycles without failure. This facile yet effective advance may provide a key step toward realizing the NEM devices whose potential is outlined in the recent review.
The work reported in Advanced Materials was a joint collaboration between Northwestern University, the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Laboratories, and the Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Laboratories. Funding was provided by the National Science Foundation, the Army Research Office, The U.S. Department of Energy, and the Office of Naval Research.
At this point in time it’s impossible to estimate what this advance will mean for graphite demand in the decades ahead, just that it will just add to the level aggregate demand. Our world is moving on from silicon into the carbon age, just like it once moved from bronze into the iron age, with similar massive lifestyle changes to come for decades ahead.