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Sunday, November 15, 2009

DNA technology : The beginning of new chapter in microchip industry

International Business Machines Corporation, the computer hardware giant is looking for alternate models for developing new design for next generation micro-chips. One of the options that IBM is really looking upto is the structure of human genetic material, DNA.

For decades chip makers have been designing smaller and smaller patterns of the next generation chips to enhance speed and reduce power consumption. The company has announced an advancement of a method to arrange DNA origami structures on surfaces compatible with present semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

Moore's Law, named after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore, states that the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit doubles roughly every two years. But this may not be sustainable for chips with geometries under 22 nanometers. According to a recent report, by 2014, the new semiconductor manufacturing equipment will threaten and challenge Moore's Law. Also, the new chip plants cost billions of dollars to build.

The new DNA Platform

The Big Blue takes the inspiration from the structure of DNA molecules, where millions of carbon nanotubes could be deposited and self-assembled into precise patterns by sticking to the DNA molecules. According to the report, this structure may provide a way to reach sub-22-nanometer lithography down to 6 nanometers--more economically. Hence, the approach could pave the way to create tiny circuits that could form the basis of smaller, more powerful computer chips.

DNA origami

DNA origami, developed by Paul Rothemund, involves nanoscale folding of viral DNA aided by multiple smaller "staple" strands called as oligonucleotide strands. These short DNA segments help in effective folding of the viral DNA into any desired 2D/3D shape through complementary base pairing. These short structures (6nm) can be used as an attachment site for nanoscale components. Hence, DNA nanostructures of different shapes can be prepared with dimensions of 100–150 nm on an edge and a thickness of the width of the DNA double helix.

Shapes can be observed via fluorescence microscopy when DNA is coupled to fluorescent materials. But, the crux of the process is the discovery of the template material and deposition conditions to afford high selectivity so that origami binds only to the patterns of "sticky patches" and nowhere else.

Benefits of new DNA Platform

The new approach of using DNA nanostructures for preparing chip structure can benefit the chip maker as it provides a basis of miniature circuit boards. It could be used for the precise assembly of components such as carbon nanotubes, nanowires and nanoparticles as the dimensions and the coordinates of DNA are known. Working on a nanoplatform offers ability to the company to work at dimensions significantly smaller than possible with conventional semiconductor fabrication techniques.

Hence, the new platform opens up the possibility of creating functional devices using nanotechnology to provide smaller and power saving devices.


The use of DNA structure for next generation chips is a bold step towards new innovation and research techniques. If successful, it will provide new horizon to the chip industry and will create more efficient chips which will save space and energy.


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