Researcher James Meindl has crunched some numbers and come up with results that, he says, should encourage scientists to keep trying to make integrated circuits smaller and smaller. He's concerned they might slacken in those efforts because scientists believe the physical limits on how small chips can be are close to being reached.
Engineers should be able to decrease the size of semiconductors to one-tenth of what they are now, says Meindl, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and director of the Microelectronics Research Center at the Georgia Institute of Technology. That reduction could keep engineers busy for as long as 20 years and produce integrated circuits with more than 1 trillion transistors per chip, up from the billions achieved with today's state-of-the-art production technologies.
Integrated circuits can be even smaller, researcher Meindl says.
"It's reassuring to know that you're not fighting against a law of physics," Meindl says. The findings mean that exponential advances in silicon technology will continue as long as engineers keep pursuing innovative ways to reduce chip sizes, until the physical limits are reached, he says. The reduction in the size of semiconductors to the levels researched by Meindl depends on scientists' ability to create chips with layers of silicon about 1 nanometer, or one-millionth of a millimeter, thick.