silicon

The Future of Computing

“The Future of Computing” is a public presentation that examines trends in computing technology and predicts what the future of computing might hold for us. Visitors are introduced to the idea of smaller, nanoscale transistors as the key to faster, more capable computers – and the barriers we face in continuing to shrink transistors to advance our computing technology (heat build-up, fabrication issues due to their small size, and quantum effects).

Scientific Image - Nanomechanical Antenna Oscillator

This scanning electron micrograph depicts a silicon crystal nanomachined into an antenna oscillator that can vibrate about 1.5 billion times per second.

The antenna-type oscillator is a nanomachined single-crystal structure of silicon. Using this design, movements 1000 times smaller than nanometer scale are amplified into motion of the entire micron-sized structure. Operating at gigahertz speeds, the technology could help further miniaturize wireless communication devices like cell phones. This macroscopic nanomechanical oscillator consists of roughly 50 billion silicon atoms.

Scientific Image - Silicon Nanowire Device

This scanning electron microscope image shows a silicon nanowire resting on two silicon nitride (SiNx) membranes.

Thermoelectric materials convert heat to electricity and vice versa. Most fossil-fuel-powered engines generate waste heat, so researchers are using nanotechnologies to explore ways of making thermoelectric devices more efficient in order to convert that waste heat to usable power—and thus save energy. This assembly was built to measure the thermal conductivity of a silicon nanowire synthesized specifically for thermoelectric applications.

Scientific Image - Silicon Nanowire

This transmission electron microscope image shows a single silicon nanowire.

Thermoelectric materials convert heat to electricity and vice versa. Most fossil-fuel-powered engines generate waste heat, so researchers are using nanotechnologies to explore ways of making thermoelectric devices more efficient in order to convert that waste heat to usable power—and thus save energy.

• SIZE: The diameter of this nanowire is approximately 100 nm.

• IMAGING TOOL: Transmission electron microscope

Scientific Image - Silicon Nanowire Array

This is a scanning electron microscope image of a silicon nanowire array synthesized for thermoelectric applications.

Thermoelectric materials convert heat to electricity and vice versa. Most fossil-fuel-powered engines generate waste heat, so researchers are using nanotechnologies to explore ways of making thermoelectric devices more efficient in order to convert that waste heat to usable power—and thus save energy.

• SIZE: Each nanowire is approximately 100 nm in diameter.

• IMAGING TOOL: Scanning electron microscope

Scientific Image - Silicon Nanomembrane

Air bubbles trapped beneath a silicon crystal film are shown in this optical microscope image. Light passing through the bubbles creates the circular patterns and colors.

Extremely thin films like these have important electrical properties and therefore find numerous applications in ultra-fast computer chips and high-yield solar cells. This image shows an intermediate stage of their production; trapped air bubbles are removed in later processing.

• SIZE: The sample imaged is 27 nm thick and a few cm wide.

• IMAGING TOOL: Optical Microscope

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