Letter | Published:

Carbon nanotube computer

Nature volume 501, pages 526530 (26 September 2013) | Download Citation

Abstract

The miniaturization of electronic devices has been the principal driving force behind the semiconductor industry, and has brought about major improvements in computational power and energy efficiency. Although advances with silicon-based electronics continue to be made, alternative technologies are being explored. Digital circuits based on transistors fabricated from carbon nanotubes (CNTs) have the potential to outperform silicon by improving the energy–delay product, a metric of energy efficiency, by more than an order of magnitude. Hence, CNTs are an exciting complement to existing semiconductor technologies1,2. Owing to substantial fundamental imperfections inherent in CNTs, however, only very basic circuit blocks have been demonstrated. Here we show how these imperfections can be overcome, and demonstrate the first computer built entirely using CNT-based transistors. The CNT computer runs an operating system that is capable of multitasking: as a demonstration, we perform counting and integer-sorting simultaneously. In addition, we implement 20 different instructions from the commercial MIPS instruction set to demonstrate the generality of our CNT computer. This experimental demonstration is the most complex carbon-based electronic system yet realized. It is a considerable advance because CNTs are prominent among a variety of emerging technologies that are being considered for the next generation of highly energy-efficient electronic systems3,4.

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Acknowledgements

We acknowledge the support of the NSF (CISE) (CNS-1059020, CCF-0726791, CCF-0702343, CCF-0643319), FCRP C2S2, FCRP FENA, STARNet SONIC and the Stanford Graduate Fellowship and the Hertz Foundation Fellowship (M.M.S.). We also acknowledge Z. Bao, A. Lin, H. (D.) Lin, M. Rosenblum, and J. Zhang for their advice and collaborations.

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Affiliations

  1. Stanford University, Gates Building, Room 331, 353 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Max M. Shulaker
  2. Stanford University, Gates Building, Room 358, 353 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Gage Hills
  3. SK Hynix Memory Solutions, 3103 North First Street, San Jose, California 95134, USA

    • Nishant Patil
  4. Stanford University, Gates Building, Room 239, 353 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Hai Wei
  5. Stanford University, Paul G. Allen Building, Room B113X, 420 Via Ortega, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Hong-Yu Chen
  6. Stanford University, Paul G. Allen Building, Room 312X, 420 Via Ortega, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • H.-S. Philip Wong
  7. Stanford University, Gates Building, Room 334, 353 Serra Mall, Stanford, California 94305, USA

    • Subhasish Mitra

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Contributions

M.M.S. led and was involved in all aspects of the project, did all of the fabrication and layout designs, and contributed to the design and testing. G.H. wrote the SUBNEG and testing programs, and contributed to the design and testing. N.P. contributed to the design, and N.P., H.W. and H.-Y.C. contributed to developing fabrication processes. H.-S.P.W. and S.M. were in charge and advised on all parts of the project.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Max M. Shulaker.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature12502

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