Moore’s law has been a central point of many discussions as the growth of technology continues at a seemingly unstoppable pace. It’s a projection first made by Gordon Moore related to how transistors on semiconductors would double every two years while the chips became less expensive to produce during that time frame. That observation has held since 1975.
However, one of the main reasons Moore’s law continues to be the subject of ongoing debates is that people recognize limitations that could slow or stop this technological progress.
Indeed, Moore’s Law has enabled tech companies to build increasingly sophisticated IoT devices or artificial intelligence applications while maintaining reasonable budgets. However, some have pointed out that keeping up with Moore’s law is increasingly challenging as many gadgets become miniaturized.
Some tech executives already consider Moore’s law irrelevant. Others feel confident it still applies today and will for the foreseeable future. No matter which side design engineers are on, it’s worthwhile for them to know some developments in the works.
Working With Tens of Billions of Transistors
Teams that want to keep pace with Moore’s law often need purpose-built locations to push the bounds of what’s currently possible. In one example, people associated with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are leading a new facility there called the Center for High Precision Patterning Science (CHiPPS).
Scientists are working hard to learn more about extreme ultraviolet lithography. They believe technology could significantly support technology growth through improved components. Succeeding could enable putting more than 100 billion transistors on a chip as large as a fingernail. The center’s work will also help mitigate many supply chain problems that have put semiconductors in short supply.
Furthermore, workforce development is a major CHiPPS focus. People associated with the center want to support upcoming generations of engineers and scientists. They’ll do that through a program that invites four students to take part in an immersive work training program.
Center director Ricardo Ruiz recognizes that keeping up with Moore’s law will have substantial implications for the United States, including tighter defense strategies and economic stability. He explained the role of EUV lithography in the center’s work, clarifying that its results are on the billionth-of-a-meter scale. The technology can make integrated circuit patterns on microchip surfaces.
Exploring New Materials
As people keep using Moore’s law to accelerate the growth of technology, some of them think new materials hold the keys to progress.
Growing 2D Materials on Silicon
A pioneering MIT research team is examining how 2D materials could eventually lead to more transistors packed onto chips. Silicon is the most common raw material in semiconductor production. However, it loses electrical properties once the products made from it become too small. That’s problematic since so many people demand tiny but powerful devices.
In a first for this kind of work, the group created a method that allows them to grow 2D materials on silicon and other common materials. They chose transition-metal dichalcogenides because they have better electrical conductivity than silicon at the nanometer scale. The project’s researchers believe their innovation will allow them to keep up with Moore’s law.
Making Calculations to Develop Future Quantum Materials
Another example came from China. People on a team there made calculations and created models that suggested a rare-earth magnet would make a suitable quantum material if kept at a particular temperature.
Moore’s law was not the sole driver of this work but undoubtedly inspired it. Dr. Zi Yang Meng, who led the research, believes identifying appropriate quantum materials will spur technological growth. Meng anticipates a future where the everyday tech devices that become common 20 years from now can be faster than today’s most advanced supercomputers and use minimal energy.
People are continually curious about how advanced materials could accelerate the manufacture of better semiconductors. Some have selected thermostat plastics for such applications. These materials are strong and corrosion-resistant, making them worth consideration.
Materials-related advancements such as these are also timely reminders that continuing to take inspiration from Moore’s law will require people to seek new options rather than being too dependent on materials or processes already common in semiconductor designs.
Financial Realities May Restrict Moore’s Law
Moore’s law expects chips to become less expensive to produce as technology improves. However, various supplementary factors make chips more or less costly. Many chipmakers stay on the cutting edge of tech by building new, highly advanced factories rather than outsourcing their needs to third parties. That may eventually keep costs down.
However, inflation has raised construction material costs for ongoing projects, adding billions of dollars to expected expenses. Even if advanced chips are not as expensive, manufacturers may see elevated prices elsewhere.
That’s the case at a Samsung chip factory in Taylor, Texas. Sources say the under-construction facility will cost at least $8 billion more than planned, bringing the total to more than $25 billion. Inflation was reportedly the reason for the overrun. Another is that the potential costs will get even higher if it takes longer than expected for the plant to open.
Building semiconductor facilities takes years, and each product must have a massive construction worker team behind it. That came into sharp focus with the undertaking of two Intel plants in Ohio. They will require 7,000 construction workers, although there’s already an extremely high demand for them in the area.
People familiar with the project say candidates are calling from out of state, looking for the chance to get involved. That’s positive, but it also means applicants will almost certainly want Intel to make it worth their while by paying them appealing wages. Factors such as labor shortages and inflation could slow the growth of technology, even if scientific and engineering achievements support it.
No Clear-Cut Path in the Growth of Technology
Keeping up with Moore’s law is daunting, but many people are up for the challenge. As they look for options, electronics designers and others will undoubtedly see how innovative mindsets and creative problem-solving skills will be valuable for helping them push technology forward.
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