Learning through fabrication
Khare credits the unique partnership and facilities at CNSE with much of the success. He calls it “a dream come true.” The Albany, NY, research center not only has a 24/7 lab, but also, thanks to
tooling partners, the capability of a full-fledged “fab,” a research facility with fabrication capabilities. That’s important because the new chips not only have to be small and efficient,
they also have to be economically viable. If it costs too much to produce them, they won’t be successful.
“We can scale to actual tooling, so we can ensure we have the right kind of properties that will scale properly,” says Khare. “We can demonstrate capabilities and structure on realistic fab
tools.” Of course, that greatly increases confidence that the chips can be produced economically enough to be commercially successful.
But the collaboration extends beyond the tooling capabilities into all areas of advanced logic technology. “IBM research is leading this effort and we work hand in hand with our other partners, particularly
GLOBALFOUNDARIES and Samsung. This is something that one cannot do alone. We have to do it together.”
The next step: Researching 5 nm chips
The job is far from over, Khare says, acknowledging, “Seven nanometer still has significant challenges. But research is underway to make even smaller chips. We actually have a have a lot of activity going
on beyond 7 nm. This train keeps running.”
“There have been a lot of predictions in the past of the end of semiconductor technology,” he continues. “But with the amount of investment and the number of engineers working on this technology,
there’s always a way out; there’s always a path that all these brilliant minds and billions of dollars of investment can find. We are already working on 5 nm technology. That will use many, many
additional innovations in both materials and structure. The technology will become harder. It will require more and more new elements and new knowledge.”
And beyond that? He foresees such possibilities as fabricating transistors in three dimensions, stacking circuits atop each other and changing the game by using carbon based devices. The team is also exploring
adding new value to smaller chips such as MRAM or magnetic memory, new ways to interconnect and linking photonics.
“I don’t think this industry is ending,” Khare says. “I think the question is how long will it take to get new chips to the market and at what cost. That is the question.”