If you've ever read Michael Crichton's nanotechnology techno-thriller novel "Prey," you know that smaller isn't necessarily always better.
Getting chased through New Mexican desert by a swarm of nanotech bits gone haywire isn't exactly my idea of a good time. But then again, neither is carrying around a 5 lb+ notebook computer through various security screening areas around the globe.
Crichton's "Bill Joy-sian" nanodelusions aside, smaller is better. And that's difficult for me to admit, considering I hail from and live in the great state of Texas, second only to Alaska in land area (with 268,601 square miles) and the largest in the lower 48. Where gargantuan pickup trucks are as common as Smart cars in Amsterdam, and where Callaway Big Bertha drivers are considered to be an excellent fairway wood.
Has Anyone Seen the Xenon Atoms on the Nickel Substrate?
For anybody who travels frequently these days (which I used to, but thankfully don't anymore), smaller is much better. When I was a jetsetting IBMer, I devolved into the master of small.
I had the smallest of everything: The smallest of headphones, the smallest portable DVD player (for which, at the time, I also paid not the smallest of fortunes), the smallest of cell phones, the smallest of suitcases...if I could have made myself smaller, I would have given it a shot.
My inclination towards Lilliputianess got so out of control, one time, as I was about to leave on a trip out of Austin, my suitcase broke directly in the middle of Bergstrom airport! The only suitcase available for sell at the airport store? An extremely diminutive rollaround. Perfect!
As big a multinational corporation as IBM is, we like making small things (We created an IBM logo out of xenon atoms on a nickel substrate just to prove it!). And making big things even smaller is a critical component of innovation...if it wasn't, we'd be travelling through airport security like Neanderthals, pulling Eniac computers around on little red wagons (Sir, could you please take your Eniac out of its case and place it in the scanning bin?)
Feeling Smaller All the Time
Yesterday, the IBM Research team announced that it was making the next giant step towards smaller computing. Our research group announced that they have now created the smallest, high-quality line patterns ever made using deep ultraviolet (DUV, 193-nanometer) optical lithography.
This is less than one-third the size of the 90-nanometer features now in mass production and below the 32 nanometers that industry consensus held as the limit for optical lithography techniques. (I don't know what that all really means, actually, because I'm not an IBM Research scientist and don't even play one on TV. However, it sounded really, really good in the press release, so I figured it would also sound really cool here in the blog).
Take that, Michael Crichton.
Translation into Semi-Coherent English: The semiconductor industry has relied on ever shrinking circuits to maintain its increasing profits and to also drive performance increases and functional improvements of semiconductors. Now that those nasty little atoms are starting to get in the way - they're simply no longer small enough, those darned atoms! - we're seriously coming close to the edge of Moore's Law (which, according to Wikipedia's definition, indicates that the complexity of an integrated circuit with respect to minimum component doubles about every 18 months...at least, it did until the atoms stopped shrinking.)
Now that we at IBM have created a "high-index immersion" variant of DUV lithography that will help enable the extension through the 45- and 32-nanometer technology nodes, we may have very well provided a path for extending Moore's Law.
I don't know about you, but with that announcement I feel a whole lot better...and a whole lot smaller.
Dont give up! I believe in you all
A persons a person, no matter how small!
And you very small persons will not have to die
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!
Dr. Seuss, "Horton Hears a Who" (1954)