IBM builds tiny circuit board with DNA scaffolding

IBM researchers are using DNA scaffolding to build tiny circuit boards.
IBM researchers are using DNA scaffolding to build tiny circuit boards.
San Jose, Calif. — IBM Research and the California Institute of Technology announced an advancement in nanotechnology that could enable the semiconductor industry to pack more power and speed into tiny computer chips, while making them more energy efficient and less expensive to manufacture.

The semiconductor industry is looking at new classes of transistors that use carbon nanotubes or silicon nanowires for developing sub-22-mm lithographic technology. IBM says its approach of using DNA molecules as scaffolding — where millions of carbon nanotubes could be deposited and self-assembled into precise patterns by sticking to the DNA molecules — may provide a way to reach sub-22 nm lithography.

IBM Researchers and collaborator Paul W.K. Rothemund, of the California Institute of Technology, report that their advancement combines lithographic patterning with self-assembly, which is a method to arrange DNA origami structures on surfaces compatible with today’s semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

As a result, the DNA nanostructures can serve as scaffolds, or miniature circuit boards, for the precise assembly of components such as carbon nanotubes, nanowires and nanoparticles at dimensions significantly smaller than possible with conventional semiconductor fabrication techniques, said the researchers.

They say this opens up the possibility of creating functional devices that can be integrated into larger structures.

“The cost involved in shrinking features to improve performance is a limiting factor in keeping pace with Moore’s Law and a concern across the semiconductor industry,” said Spike Narayan, manager, Science & Technology, IBM Research – Almaden, in a statement. “The combination of this directed self-assembly with today’s fabrication technology eventually could lead to substantial savings in the most expensive and challenging part of the chip-making process.”

The paper, “Placement and orientation of DNA nanostructures on lithographically patterned surfaces,” by scientists at IBM Research and the California Institute of Technology, will be published in the September issue of Nature Nanotechnology.