In a finding that builds on earlier work from several institutions, including IBM, a team of electrical engineers at Stanford University today announced the creation of the first-ever computer based on carbon nanotubes. The nanotubes are used to create a novel kind of transistor, one that doesn't rely on conventional silicon. "This is the most complex electronic ever built with carbon nanotubes," said Max Shulaker, a co-author on the paper announcing the progress, which is published in Nature. "There's been a lot of hype around this field, but people weren't actually sure if you could use them in a practical way like this."
Carbon nanotubes, or CNTs, are infinitesimally small cylinders made from sheets of carbon atoms. When arrayed into transistors, the nanotubes are small enough that engineers can fit many more of them onto a single chip compared to silicon transistors. Their size, combined with other properties of the nanotubes — including high conductivity and rapid on-off ability — would mean enhanced speed and energy efficiency. That's particularly important given the inherent limits of silicon-based transistors: researchers have been doubling the number of transistors on a chip approximately every two years (a process known as Moore's Law) but that progress will within decades reach an end.