The computer chip is certainly one of the preeminent accomplishments of 20th century technology, making vastly expanded computational speed available in smaller size and at lower cost. Computers and email communication are almost universally available in modern society. Perhaps the most revolutionary results of computer technology are the universal availability of email to the informed and at least minimally endowed, and magnificent search engines such as Google. Without an unexpected return to the past, which might roll back this major human progress it seems rationally that computers have ushered in a new era of information, connectedness, and enlightenment in human existence.

Moore's empirical law summarizes the "economy of scale" in getting the same function by making the working elements ever smaller. (It turns out, as we will see, that smaller means faster, characteristically enhancing the advantage in miniaturization). In the ancient abacus, bead positions represent binary numbers, with infor-

1975 1980 1985 1990 1995

10 million (transistors)

t million 100,000




S0486 80386




500 (mips)

Figure 1.2 Moore's Law. [6]. The number of transistors in successive generations of computer chips has risen exponentially, doubling every 1.5 years or so. The notation "mips" on right ordinate is "million instructions per second". Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, Inc. predicted this growth pattern in 1965, when a silicon chip contained only 30 transistors! The number of Dynamic Random Access Memory (DRAM) cells follows a similar growth pattern. The growth is largely due to continuing reduction in the size of key elements in the devices, to about lOOnm, with improvements in optical photolithography. Clock speeds have similarly increased, presently around 2 GHz. For a summary, see [7]

mation recorded on a scale of perhaps lbit [(0,1) or (yes/no)] per cm2. In silicon microelectronic technology an easily produced memory cell size of one micron corresponds to 1012bits/cm2 (one Tb/cm2). Equally important is the continually reducing size of the magnetic disk memory element (and of the corresponding read/write sensor head) making possible the -100 Gb disk memories of contemporary laptop computers. The continuing improvements in performance (reductions in size of the performing elements), empirically summarized by Moore's Law (a doubling of performance every 1.5 years, or so), arise from corresponding reductions in the size scale of the computer chip, aided by the advertising-related market demand.

The vast improvements from the abacus to the Pentium chip exemplify the promise of nanotechnology. Please note that this is all still in the range of "classical scaling"! The computer experts are absolutely sure that nanophysical effects are so far negligible.

The semiconductor industry, having produced a blockbuster performance over decades, transforming advanced society and suitably enriching its players and stockholders, is concerned about its next act!

The next act in the semiconductor industry, if a second act indeed shows up, must deal with the nanophysical rules. Any new technology, if such is feasible, will have to compete with a base of universally available applied computation, at unimaginably low costs. If Terahertz speed computers with 100 Mb randomly accessible memories and 100 Gb hard drives, indeed become a commodity, what can compete with that? Silicon technology is a hard act to follow.

Nanotechnology, taken literally, also represents the physically possible limit of such improvements. The limit of technology is also evident, since the smallest possible interconnecting wire on the chip must be at least 100 atoms across! Moore's law empirically has characterized the semiconductor industry's success in providing faster and faster computers of increasing sophistication and continually falling price. Success has been obtained with a larger number of transistors per chip made possible by finer and finer scales of the wiring and active components on the silicon chips. There is a challenge to the continuation of this trend (Moore's Law) from the economic reality of steeply increasing plant cost (to realize reduced linewidths and smaller transistors).

The fundamental challenge to the continuation of this trend (Moore's Law) from the change of physical behavior as the atomic size limit is approached, is a central topic in this book.

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