PORTLAND, Ore. — Marrying two different electron flows, biology's with electronics', could bring on the next revolution of small and power-efficient processors.
With the aim of creating hybrid bio-semiconductor systems that advance the frontiers of information and communications technologies, the Semiconductor Synthetic Biology (SemiSynBio, SSB) program was launched today by Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC) in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Funded by SRC’s Global Research Collaboration (GRC), the initial phase of the project will distribute $2.25 million in funding over three years to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Yale University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Brigham Young University, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Washington.
"The SemiSynBio program is about bringing electronics and biochemistry together," said MIT professor Rahul Sarpeshkar in an interview with EE Times. "Semiconductors are about the long-range motion of electrons in wires, and bio-chemistry is about the short-range motion of electrons between molecules in chemical reactions. So when semiconductors get all the way to the bottom of the size scale, they have to deal with chemistry, and that's what living cells do best."
Synthetic biology will be used to re-engineer biological materials for useful purposes in the fabrication of advanced semiconductors -- in the short-term, engineering special DNA strands that aid in the self-assembly of chip features that are beyond the reach of traditional lithography. However, the long-term goal of the multidisciplinary effort is nothing less than inventing new types of living cells that can be integrated into hybrid biological semiconductors. Along the way the SSB program aspires to discover new properties, methodologies, and applications for hybrid bio-semiconductors.
"Cells compute with chemistry and semiconductors compute with transistors -- but both are about the controlled flow of electrons," says Sarpeshkar. "That insight leads from being an semiconductor designer to being a DNA circuit designer."
The low-hanging fruit in the program will explore molecular-scale additive-chip fabrication processes that achieve sub-five nanometer design features using techniques derived from biology. For instance, DNA will be explored as a template material for guiding the self-assembly of nanometer-scale chip features -- an alternative to the subtractive lithographic methods used today. By encoding nanoscale materials with DNA, so that they automatically migrate to regions with matching codes, the program hopes to improve chip yields and significantly reduce defects for integrated circuits near the end of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors, circa 2024.
Conductive metal-semiconductor interconnects at sub-five-nanometer line widths could use DNA-templates to guide their self-assembly.
"There are already efforts in directed self-assembly where you use large molecules to create patterns, and using DNA is a more sophisticated way of doing that," says Steve Hillenius, executive vice president at SRC.