IBM uses DNA to make next-gen microchips

SAN FRANCISCO Sun Aug 16, 2009 2:59pm EDT

View of IBM headquarters at la Defense in Paris, May 6, 2005. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

View of IBM headquarters at la Defense in Paris, May 6, 2005.

Credit: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - International Business Machines Corp is looking to the building blocks of our bodies -- DNA -- to be the structure of next-generation microchips.

As chipmakers compete to develop ever-smaller chips at cheaper prices, designers are struggling to cut costs.

Artificial DNA nanostructures, or "DNA origami" may provide a cheap framework on which to build tiny microchips, according to a paper published on Sunday in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Microchips are used in computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.

"This is the first demonstration of using biological molecules to help with processing in the semiconductor industry," IBM research manager Spike Narayan said in an interview with Reuters.

"Basically, this is telling us that biological structures like DNA actually offer some very reproducible, repetitive kinds of patterns that we can actually leverage in semiconductor processes," he said.

The research was a joint undertaking by scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center and the California Institute of Technology.

Right now, the tinier the chip, the more expensive the equipment. Narayan said that if the DNA origami process scales to production-level, manufacturers could trade hundreds of millions of dollars in complex tools for less than a million dollars of polymers, DNA solutions, and heating implements.

"The savings across many fronts could add up significantly," he said.

But the new processes are at least 10 years out. Narayan said that while the DNA origami could allow chipmakers to build frameworks that are far smaller than possible with conventional tools, the technique still needs years of experimentation and testing.

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