Scientists Discover New Way To Operate Computer Chips


Computer company IBM announced a scientific breakthrough today on a new way to operate computer chips using tiny ionic currents. The discovery could pave the way for new computer chips that would use less power than today’s silicon based computer devices.

Rather than using conventional electrical ways to operate today’s semiconducting devices, IBM’s scientists discovered a new way to operate chips using tiny ionic currents, which are streams of charged atoms that could mimic the event-driven way in which the human brain operates.

The above image shows an optical image of a chip using ionic liquid (IL). The gold squares are pads used to make contact to the device via wire-bonding. On the right is the magnified image of the device showing the channel (brownish yellow) and the gold electrical contacts (bright yellow).

cmos chip
(CMOS based computer chip)

Today’s computers typically use semiconductors made with the use of so called CMOS process technologies. It was long thought that these CMOS based chips would double in performance and decrease in size and cost every two or so years (according to a famous law known as Moore’s law). But the materials and techniques to develop and build CMOS architecture chips are rapidly approaching physical and performance limitations, therefor reaching the boundaries of the CMOS process technology. New solutions may soon be needed to develop high performance and low-powered devices.

IBM research scientists demonstrated that it is feasible to reversibly transform metal oxides between insulating and conductive states, by the insertion and removal of oxygen ions driven by electric fields at oxide-liquid interfaces. Once the oxide materials, which are innately insulating, are transformed into a so called conducting state. The IBM experiments demonstrated that the materials maintain a stable metallic state, even when power to the device is taken away.

This non-volatile property means that computer chips using devices that operate using this phenomenon could be used to store and transport data in a more efficient way, instead of requiring the state of the devices to be maintained by constant electrical currents.

(Dr. Stuart Parkin, IBM researcher)

“Our ability to understand and control matter at atomic scale dimensions allows us to engineer new materials and devices that operate on entirely different principles than the silicon based information technologies of today,” said Dr. Stuart Parkin, an IBM Fellow at IBM Research. “Going beyond today’s charge-based devices to those that use miniscule ionic currents to reversibly control the state of matter has the potential for new types of mobile devices. Using these devices and concepts in novel three-dimensional architectures could prevent the information technology industry from hitting a technology brick wall.”

The newly made discovery could clear the way for a new class of computer chips that would use less power than today’s silicon based computer devices. This would mean Moore’s law that tells about the doubling of chip capabilities every two or so years has reached a new road to travel on forward. When the first computer chip that will be working with this breakthrough will be available is unknown. It can take several years to fully change a production cycle of a complex product as a computer chip.

The research done by the scientists at IBM has also been published in the latest issue of the journal Science.

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Rowan Gonzalez

Founder & Chief Web Editor at Computer Stories
Rowan is the founder and Chief Web Editor of Computer Stories. He studied Communication and Multimedia Design at the University of Applied Sciences in Amsterdam from which he graduated in 2013. Rowan's passionate about computer technologies that make the world and our lives a little better.