There’s a very real fear that processor speed upgrades will slow to a crawl as it becomes increasingly difficult to make denser chips. Don’t tell that to a team of researchers at MIT and in Chicago, though — they’ve devised a chip-making technique that could keep Moore’s Law relevant for a while longer. Their approach produces much finer wires by letting them partly assemble themselves, rather than relying on the very deliberate (not to mention slow) ultraviolet or scanning processes used to make chips today.
The team starts out with the conventional process of using an electron beam to etch patterns on a chip, but that’s where much of the familiarity ends. The next step is to lay down a mix of two polymers that naturally separate themselves into patterns. When you place a protective polymer coating on top of those polymers, you force them to self-assemble in a dense, vertically oriented way that produces four wires where there would usually be one.
There’s a long way to go before you see this method put into practice. Thankfully, it promises to be relatively simple. You could use existing chip lithography techniques, and it wouldn’t be difficult to add the coating process. This would use well-understood materials, to boot. As such, there’s a real possibility that companies could build very dense (that is, denser than 10nm) chips without throwing out their current technology, leading to speed and energy improvements that once seemed unrealistic.