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Science & Medicine 66

Explorations in the world of science.



March 16th, 2011

Episode 42 of 559 episodes

We take it for granted that mobile phones today do as much, or more, than the cumbersome personal computers we bought just a decade ago. But many industry insiders believe that silicon chips are about to hit the buffers. Without the hardware to support them, computers may not continue to evolve at the same astonishing rate. Arranging transistors, a thousand times smaller than a human hair, on a silicon chip isn't easy. But the ability to manipulate such miniscule entities is just one of the challenges chip manufacturers are facing and it's probably not the most serious. When transistors are smaller than this, silicon starts to lose the properties that make it so useful for building logic circuits. Will memristors - resistors with memory - be the next great leap forward in digital technology? Based on a thin film of titanium dioxide, they can do the work of billions of silicon chips using a fraction of their power. In 1965, Intel employee Gordon Moore predicted that the number of transistors that manufacturers could fit on a silicon chip would double every two years. That prediction became known as Moore’s Law, and over the last four decades, the law has proved to be correct. But now even Moore himself wonders whether this dramatic rate of progress can be sustained. Roland Pease asks if this is really the end for Moore's Law. Or will memristors drive the next technological advance to even smaller and faster devices?

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