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Research Promises Better Lube for Nano Machines

Physicists figure out how graphene fights "stiction" — the friction that afflicts MEMS and NEMS

3 min read

14 April 2010—The moving parts of micromechanical machines tend to seize up under the forces of sticking and friction that engineers call stiction. The problem yields to solid lubricants, notably graphite (sheets of carbon atoms called graphene stacked in layers), although for a long time no one understood exactly why this happens.

Now nanotechnology researchers, led by Professor Robert Carpick at the University of Pennsylvania and Professor James Hone at Columbia University, in New York City, have shown that how effective the lubrication is depends on the number of layers of graphene in the graphite. In particular, more layers means better lubrication. Because the same relationship between layers and lubrication occurs in thin sheets of molybdenum disulfide, niobium diselenide, and boron nitride—materials of widely differing properties—the workers conclude that this behavior is a fundamental aspect of friction. They expect that the discovery will lead to better lubrication of tiny moving parts. The researchers published details of their experiments in a recent issue of Science.

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3D-Stacked CMOS Takes Moore’s Law to New Heights

When transistors can’t get any smaller, the only direction is up

10 min read
An image of stacked squares with yellow flat bars through them.
Emily Cooper

Perhaps the most far-reaching technological achievement over the last 50 years has been the steady march toward ever smaller transistors, fitting them more tightly together, and reducing their power consumption. And yet, ever since the two of us started our careers at Intel more than 20 years ago, we’ve been hearing the alarms that the descent into the infinitesimal was about to end. Yet year after year, brilliant new innovations continue to propel the semiconductor industry further.

Along this journey, we engineers had to change the transistor’s architecture as we continued to scale down area and power consumption while boosting performance. The “planar” transistor designs that took us through the last half of the 20th century gave way to 3D fin-shaped devices by the first half of the 2010s. Now, these too have an end date in sight, with a new gate-all-around (GAA) structure rolling into production soon. But we have to look even further ahead because our ability to scale down even this new transistor architecture, which we call RibbonFET, has its limits.

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