The fastest microchips we have can only pass their data from side to side and front to back, no matter how close their components are squeezed together. A new chip developed by researchers at University of Cambridge, on the other hand, can pass data up and down too, making for the world's first truly 3D microchip.
To make something capable of moving data in three dimensions, researchers worked with a spintronic chip, which makes use of electrons' minute magnetic "spin" instead of their charge, like most chips. The chip itself is a stack of cobalt, platinum and ruthenium atoms, each layer just a few atoms thick. The platinum and cobalt hold data much like a normal hard drive does, and the ruthenium can pass data between the layers above and below it. Using specialized laser technique, the researchers can even watch the data climb the nano-staircase up and down, one tiny step at a time.
Dr Reinoud Lavrijsen, one of the authors of the paper, put it this way:
Today's chips are like bungalows – everything happens on the same floor. We've created the stairways allowing information to pass between floors.
This isn't the first to be three-dimensional, but it is the first to make use of layers by directly passing data up and down. In short, it's the first to act three-dimensional. As with most of these developments, applications are still a way off, but the promise of being able to add a dimension of mobility to microchips could have a serious effect on the way they're designed in the future. These are waaay cooler than 3D TVs. [University of Cambridge via Kurzweilai]