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Researchers build RISC-V chip from carbon nanotubes

techreport.com, Aug. 29, 2019 – 

Researchers at MIT have taken the first small–but real–steps toward the next generation of processors, building the first RISC-V compliant processor powered by carbon nanotubes. The processor can handle 32-bit instructions and 16-bit memory addressing, and the team got it to execute a Hello World! demo. That's a far cry from what silicon chips can do, to be sure, but it's an important step.

While chipmakers aren't done squeezing every last bit of power out of silicon, the life of silicon processors is coming to an end. Despite what the logic of Ant-Man might suggest, we can only miniaturize things so much. That means we need to find something else to take the place of silicon. Researchers have long looked at carbon nanotubes as a potential new material for processors, but it's a possibility as rife with pitfalls as it is full of potential.

Carbon nanotubes are natural semi-conductors, and they're extremely small, making them an ideal option for further miniaturizing processors. However, they have to be grown, and it's proven difficult to grown them precisely. Getting this to work requires 100% purity, but researchers have topped out at 99.9%. That sounds closer than it is; applications like this require absolute precision.

Further, silicon semiconductors can be modified to have positive and negative biases through a process called "doping," but the microscopic size of carbon nanotubes makes that incredibly difficult to do.

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