Arrowhead Research Corp., a diversified nanotechnology company, announced today that it will work with Duke University and Dr. Jie Liu, a leading nanotube expert, to develop nanotube-based interconnects as a replacement for copper in computer chips. Arrowhead has agreed to provide approximately $680,000 in funding over the next two years to develop Dr. Liu's technology. In exchange, Arrowhead will have the exclusive right to license the resulting intellectual property and commercialize the process developed at Duke.
"There is a burning need in the semiconductor industry for a new material to replace copper interconnects. We believe the Duke team has a unique solution to this problem," said R. Bruce Stewart, Arrowhead's president. "Our intention is to fund development of a CMOS compatible process at Duke over the next two years, and then partner with device manufacturers to integrate carbon nanotube-based interconnects into their manufacturing processes."
As consumer demand grows for smaller and faster chips, copper interconnects become more difficult and costly to fabricate. Also, copper's structural and electrical properties intrinsically degrade at smaller scales. The International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors identifies the interconnect problem as one of the major roadblocks standing in the way of future chip fabrication.
A phenomenon known as electromigration threatens the reliability of nanometer-size copper interconnects. Electromigration causes internal and external cavities that lead to wire failure. Copper burns out at one million amps per square centimeter while nanotubes can carry up to a billion amps per square centimeter. Bundles of densely packed nanotubes can also have substantially lower resistance than copper. Although several players in the semiconductor industry have identified nanotubes as a prime candidate to replace copper, substantial challenges remain in synthesizing the materials and integrating them into chips.
"To our knowledge, corporate research groups have encountered recurring problems in the manufacturing strategies they have pursued," said Mr. Stewart. "We believe Dr. Liu and his research team at Duke have a completely different approach that could enable large volume manufacturing of nanotube interconnects in future chips."
This investment is the latest in a series that furthers Arrowhead's business model of funding university nanotech research and guiding it to the marketplace.