PhysOrg.com is reporting a new deal between Brewer Science and Nantero to commercialize carbon nanotubes for nonvolatile memory in one more partnership in the traditional CMOS supply chain. It's part of Nantero's effort to remain all respectable and integrate with existing processes and products. You wouldn't want to frighten the semiconductor industry with news of its impending obsolescence. Dogs would lie down with cats and there would be panic in the streets.
As I wrote in a report for NanoMarkets last year, Nantero "has gone out of its way to make it clear that (it's) not some “crazy” nano company out to change everything by creating a manufacturing process that nobody else could reproduce. (CEO Greg) Schmergel’s marching orders to his people were that they were not to buy any 'weird equipment.'" The strategy works, of course, since Nantero has attracted some big venture capital bucks.
What's all the fuss about with Nantero? What the Boston-area company has laid claim to is its own first letter to add to RAM, and for some reason the letter N hadn't already been taken. So, NRAM it was, and here's how the nanotubes turn into memories: Suspend billions of nanotubes over a substrate that also contains tubes, then sound the call to prayer by flipping an electrical switch. The tubes on top bend in supplication toward the tubes on the bottom. And when they touch, they stay touched, even when the juice is turned off. Thank Mr. Van der Waals and his forces for that.
Why is this method of memory considered so great? It's because the tubes are, well, "nano," you can pack billions of them together, a kind of single-layer carpet of nanotubes upon nanotubes, and can be switched on and off in less than a nanosecond. And with Nantero's method, you don't have to worry about making all those billions of nanosoldiers line up correctly or even be the same size. The tubes are just scattered randomly, and regular semiconductor lithographic equipment will cut away the tubes that are not in the right place. Plus, we all know that nanotubes are strong and conduct better than Arthur Fiedler on the Fourth of July.
And according to Nantero, its process could theoretically conduct a memorable 10-gigabite symphony, a prototype of which has already been played. One potential problem, though, is that not all nanotubes were created equal. Some have different kinds of electrical properties that a random process just can't weave out – so there can be a few sour notes.
And still unanswered is how this data is read without eroding or destroying the information. The only explanation that's been given is that they're nanotubes, therefore incredibly strong and can't crack. That's never been truly put to the test, but I suppose it's safer to try it in computer memory than in a nanotube space elevator.