Nanoinverters are created with low-cost additive manufacturing process

| August 27, 2012

R&D Magazine, August 27, 2012

Closeup of a com­puter chip uti­lizing eco­nom­ical nano-??scale inverters, which are essen­tial logic com­po­nents in microchips, at the Center for High-??Rate Nanomanufacturing. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Closeup of a com­puter chip uti­lizing eco­nom­ical nano-??scale inverters, which are essen­tial logic com­po­nents in microchips, at the Center for High-??Rate Nanomanufacturing. Photo by Brooks Canaday.

Microchips are per­va­sive in today’s high-tech society, playing inte­gral roles in the inner work­ings of your cell phone to your Keurig coffee machine.

A pro­cessing tech­nology called CMOS, or com­ple­men­tary metal–oxide–semiconductor, made microchips eco­nom­i­cally fea­sible in the 1980s, said Siva­sub­ra­manian Somu, a research sci­en­tist in Northeastern’s Center for High-rate Nanoman­u­fac­turing.

A crit­ical ele­ment in any microchip is some­thing called an inverter—an elec­tronic com­po­nent that spits out zeros when you give it ones, and vice versa.

“A tran­sistor (the basic ele­ment in an inverter) is a simple, extremely fast switch,” Somu explained. “You can turn it on and off by elec­tric signals.”

In the early days of com­puter tech­nology, mechan­ical switches were used for com­pu­ta­tional oper­a­tions.

“You cannot achieve fast com­pu­ta­tions using mechan­ical switches,” Somu said. So CMOS, which used elec­tric sig­nals to turn the switches on and off, rep­re­sented a sig­nif­i­cant advance in the field.

But despite its rel­a­tive economy, a CMOS fab­ri­ca­tion plant still costs about $50 bil­lion, according to Somu.

“We needed an alter­na­tive, cost-effective solu­tion that still can com­pete with CMOS at the foundry level,” he said.