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IBM Hardware

IBM Scientists Build Computer Chips From DNA 97

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the some-chips-are-longer-than-others dept.
snydeq writes "Scientists at IBM are experimenting with using DNA molecules as a way to create tiny circuits that could form the basis of smaller, more powerful computer chips. The technique builds on work done by Cal Tech's Paul Rothemund, who found that DNA molecules can be made to 'self-assemble' into tiny forms [PDF] such as triangles, squares and stars. 'To make a chip, the scientists first create lithographic templates using traditional chip making techniques. After, they pour a DNA solution over the surface of the silicon and the tiny triangles and squares — what the scientists call DNA origami — line themselves up to the patterns etched out using lithography.' DNA-based chips may sound like crackpot tech, but those involved believe the methodology could lead to a new way of fabricating features on the surface of chips that allows semiconductors to be made even smaller, faster and more power-efficient than they are today."
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IBM Scientists Build Computer Chips From DNA

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  • Nanofabrication (Score:3, Insightful)

    by neonprimetime (528653) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:08PM (#29098277) Homepage
    "The degree of difficulty of nanofabrication is going up rapidly," Wallraff said.

    Tell me about it! I can hardly keep up.
  • It's only a matter of time. We're screwed. Nice going, IBM.

    • I, for one, look forward to welcoming our bio-nano-tech overlords
      • by falconwolf (725481) <falconsoaring_2000.yahoo@com> on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:48PM (#29098663)

        I, for one, look forward to welcoming our bio-nano-tech overlords

        I doubt it will happen in my lifetime but I'd like to see when either nanotechnology or Neurogenesis [wikipedia.org] can repair damaged brains. I survived a Traumatic Brain Injury [headinjury.com], TBI, and I'd be in line as a test subject.

        Either that, or be in line to transplant one of Marvin's brains.

        Falcon

        • But, you will have to worry about whether these nano-bots will simply stop after restoring the brain to it's previous state (so I guess you would forget what happened to you since before the 'incident', or will the bot's become self-aware (possibly as a group), then rewire your brain so your body is totally controlled by the bot's...

          • But, you will have to worry about whether these nano-bots will simply stop after restoring the brain to it's previous state (so I guess you would forget what happened to you since before the 'incident', or will the bot's become self-aware (possibly as a group), then rewire your brain so your body is totally controlled by the bot's...

            No, I don't worry about that. I think if anything it'd be a relief for me.

            Falcon

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by aphelion_rock (575206)
      More to the point, when will it become self reproducing? Add to this the ability to reproduce and mankind becomes god. Do we then put it on another planet and see if it survives and evolves...
    • DNA seems to have been in use for 4 billion years. Humans arose 200k years ago, some humans can be described as "self-aware."

      So we have at most 3.8 billion years to decide if we are going to fight or welcome our self-aware DNA computer overlords.

      • by FudRucker (866063)
        that is a slippery slope, next thing you know they will be wanting equal rights and vote...
      • by superwiz (655733)
        that's a false analogy. it presumes that design that is intelligent (by the virtue of being done by humans) is as inefficient as the design based on (often random) restrictions posed by natural conditions and natural adaptation to those conditions renewed by an occasional random mutation.
        • The chips aren't self-aware now, or even really thinking on their own presumably, and they aren't designed to do so. To go from unthinking chips to self awareness on the level of humans would likely be more inefficient and unlikely as our evolution has been. Also given restrictions on the system, it's more unlikely that the computer would continue to function as the thing started changing, not to mention it would have to evolve with much fewer resources in a much more closed space. So yeah, I think it's

          • by superwiz (655733)
            It's a false analogy because this is a mechanism for designing intelligent being from scratch. My point was that just as in everything else, man-made things will be better than natural things and they will get designed much, much faster. The technology allows for arranging DNA in a pre-designed sequence. Which is the first step to treating creation of new organisms as a programming task. No, that's not what the chips are designed to do, but it is the side-effect of having this technology available now.
  • DNA is smaller? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    How do they intend to make circuits smaller than current lithography methods allow when the DNA solution is aligning itself to lithograph etchings? Further work required, methinks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chris Burke (6130)

      DNA molecules are put inside the lithographic channels, therein form structures which are smaller than the lithography itself. Seems straightforward to me... It's just a way to guide their self-organization. Think of it this way -- the tiniest lithographic mark you can make can be used to make one transistor gate. Or, in the same space, you can get the full complexity of one or more DNA molecules.

    • by mgblst (80109)

      How do they intend to make circuits smaller than current lithography methods allow when the DNA solution is aligning itself to lithograph etchings? Further work required, methinks.

      No, they have finished. It is ready. You can get it on at your local best buy right now. Just go and ask for your DNA laptop, they will now what you mean.

  • by JKWSN (1614313) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:16PM (#29098347)

    pour a DNA solution over the surface of the silicon and the tiny triangles and squares â" what the scientists call DNA origami

    I think I saw something like this on the internet once but a different Japanese word was used...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:17PM (#29098355)

    After, they pour a DNA solution over the surface of the silicon and the tiny triangles and squares line themselves up to the patterns etched out using lithography"

    I've been pouring a DNA solution over the surface of my computer for years. Doesn't do anything but break the keyboard. This story is bunk.

  • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:17PM (#29098359) Homepage

    I remember over a decade ago hearing about research where they had demonstrated DNA-based computation. They'd used the molecules to perform some reasonably complex algorithm and got the correct answer. It was extremely fast, in part due to using a lot of parallelism. The only problem -- the 'answer' was somewhere in the beaker full of DNA goop and had to be chemically sorted out to actually see what happened. So, uh, not terribly practical.

    Using lithography to put molecules where you want them to be sounds a lot better than a beaker of goop. :)

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      Hm... but just imagine what a beowulf cluster of cloud-based goop computing systems could do?

      it sounds like a +5 Funny Mod Comment at any rate. ;)

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      In 1994 Leonard M. Adleman solved the travelling salesman problem in 7 days with a DNA computer. I think that is probably what you are thinking of. (Article about it here [jyi.org])
      • Actually a particular instance of the traveling salesman problem, involving just seven cities, was solved. The importance was not solving that particular instance in itself but doing it differently; that particular instance would be pretty easy to solve on a computer as you have just 7! possibilities to check.

        • by Chris Burke (6130)

          Actually a particular instance of the traveling salesman problem, involving just seven cities, was solved.

          Yes, but that's extremely impressive for a brand new method of computation. Most of the time, it's like "we've demonstrated a NAND operation so we're Turing complete!" or rarely "We have a full adder!" This was actual problem solving for a not-completely-trivial algorithm, which was pretty cool.

          Of course it didn't "solve the traveling salesman problem" in a general sense -- that would be a feat well,

      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Yes, that was it! I remember it was the traveling salesman problem. Pretty impressive for a brand new method of computation.

  • To be "DNA" doesn't it need to be able to self-replicate or something like that? Given the appropriate raw materials, will the DNA chips self-replicate and expand themselves?

    • To be "DNA" doesn't it need to be able to self-replicate or something like that?

      No, to be "life" it needs to do that (among other things.) To be DNA, all it has to do is, well, be DNA [wikipedia.org].

    • To be "DNA" doesn't it need to be able to self-replicate or something like that? Given the appropriate raw materials, will the DNA chips self-replicate and expand themselves?

      DNA can and does both self assemble and self replicate. I'm reading an article in "Tech review" on this subject, "First Life and Next Life" [technologyreview.com]. In experiments the author showed that the, artificial, DNA could also evolve.

      Falcon

  • I foresee a bunch of very angry and utterly confused "life starts at DNA" people.
  • Feed it beans and watch it output vapor....ware.
  • I'm trying to figure out why the researchers are using DNA. Is it...

    A - some unique and intrinsic property of DNA that makes it suited for the job.
    (If so, then is it just coincidence that our genetic information is stored in a molecule that has these unique properties?)

    B - just that DNA has been so well-studied in the last half century that we can manipulate it better (and cheaper) than most other complex micro-structures?
    (If so, then that's just one more example of basic research leading to unforeseen bre

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by confused one (671304)
      self assembly and the ability to modify the structure of the molecule using simple methods to serve a specific purpose.
    • Re:why DNA? (Score:5, Informative)

      by PotatoFarmer (1250696) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:43PM (#29098629)
      According to the article, it's a little from column A, and a little from column B - DNA has an intrinsic ability to self-assemble (A), and it's been studied to the point where the resultant forms of that self-assembly are pretty well known (B).

      From reading TFA, it sounds like they're using a traditional lithographic technique to produce the substrate that is filled in by DNA. This DNA in turn self-assembles into structures that are more complex than can be reliably produced by lithography alone. Those structures are then coated in nanoparticles to form the actual IC interconnects.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Peter Steil (1619597)
      More than likely because in the present age anything with even a hint at DNA or genetics tends to bring up stock value. Think of it like a buzz word.
    • by ZankerH (1401751)
      It's a well-studied and well-understood, large molecule, which is used for carrying information in nature and therefore well-suited for the task.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by DragonWriter (970822)

      I'm trying to figure out why the researchers are using DNA. Is it...

      A - some unique and intrinsic property of DNA that makes it suited for the job.
      (If so, then is it just coincidence that our genetic information is stored in a molecule that has these unique properties?)

      That's part of it; I wouldn't describe it as coincidence that a molecule that forms one of the basic information storage mechanisms which allows life to exist has properties that are useful in information technology, though.

      B - just that DNA

  • Nano-fabrication (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Thuktun (221615) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:29PM (#29098475) Homepage Journal

    I wonder if this is a practical step towards the ubiquitous "matter compilers" featured in Stephenson's The Diamond Age [wikipedia.org].

    • by cfa22 (1594513)
      Doubt it. But since the pieces of DNA used here are like stiff little rods with unique registry it's a bit closer to the wetware computation featured in Stephenson's The Diamond Age. Also because the DNA only does exactly what the designers tell it to do, it's a bit closer to the live-narrated children's storybook featured in Stephenson's The Diamond Age. Then again, such self-assembly might be useful in manufacturing those kick-ass skateboard wheels featured in Stephenson's The Diamond Age. Damn it, so
  • Instead of going small, why don't we go giant? My x86 processor is about an inch across, why not make it a foot? Do we really need *smaller,* why can't *bigger* be faster? Imagine our sleek Quantum Computing chip, and then blow it up macro size to a foot version. Why do we take a speed hit for not being microscopic? Why does being a "big processor" make it slower than a "small processor." Why can't we make jumbo versions of Quantum Computers? (I'm not familiar with logic gate circuitry, enlighten me please.
    • Several factors here: Cost longer distance = thicker interconnect required -> (see 1) Greater size = greater distance = longer travel time = slower Power consumption increases as component size increases whereas power consumption decreases as things get smaller.
    • Several factors here:
      Cost
      longer distance = thicker interconnect required -> (see 1)
      Greater size = greater distance = longer travel time = slower
      Power consumption increases as component size increases whereas power consumption decreases as things get smaller.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by newcastlejon (1483695)
      I'm not familiar with it either but I imagine that it becomes harder to maintain a synchronous clock signal (moot for designs that don't use one, natch) when you increase the size. It would also increase the amount of time that any signal takes to travel from one end to the other. As far as quantum goes, you're using individual or small groupings of atoms - that's just what size they are. The bulk of the machines I expect is made up of vacuum and cryogeny gear.
    • In addition to the other responses... there's also the reason of fabrication defects. The probability of a defect is constant for a 1cm x 1cm area so when the CPU area goes up the number of defects goes up. You only need 1 defect to trash the entire chip, so there's an financial need to achieve a defect rate per CPU as close to 0 as possible.
      • above a certain size, it becomes harder to form defects significant enough to cause failure. I think around 200um you don't even need a clean room.
    • by Z80a (971949)
      besides the reasons posted down there, there is the yield factor too.

      if i'm not mistaken is quite hard to make a chip that large that actually works, as you would need to do multiple precise "etchings" and they need to be EXACTLY lined up.

      and also i heard that each silicon wafer costs around 2000 bucks,so if you get 4 chips working out of it, you will need to charge more than 500 dollars per chip.
    • I want to be able to carry it with me. It's a plus if I can have one that I control implanted.

      Falcon

    • by mgblst (80109)

      I know, and why don't they make it a million meters wide, that would be great, so much more power. And they should make it red, that would be faster. And they should make it absorb heat, rather than produce heat, then we could sit it in the desert. And they should make self replicate, so every hour it reproduced itself, from the sand int the desert. Gee, if they just did that, we would have loads of cheap computing power...

      • Imagine a miniature watch. Complete with miniature gears, and belts... and hands. But we can't build it, because it's too small. Oh well, we'll never ever have a watch, because it absolutely must be tiny tiny tiny to keep the time good.
  • Where's a Borg Queen when you need one?

  • by Anal Surprise (178723) on Monday August 17, 2009 @05:46PM (#29098653)

    Every time I read "Cal Tech", I cringe. "Caltech", please.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by cfa22 (1594513)
      And we prefer "Cal" to "Berkeley." Also, in America, commas and periods go inside quotes.
      • Also, in America, commas and periods go inside quotes.

        It's a completely unintuitive convention. The end of (or pause in) my sentence was not part of what the person I'm quoting said. Disregarding that rule is a conscious choice for some of us.

      • Style depends on where you live and what conventions you follow. In Canada, we seem to be adopting American spellings and punctuation rules I think more as a result of the auto-correction features and misspelling underlines in Firefox et al than a desire to conform to your standard. Laziness (failing to employ Canadian English dictionaries etc.) results in homogeneity favouring (yes there's a 'u' in there) the culture that designed the tool. Here's the breakdown on punctuation [wikipedia.org] -- I happen to follow the Bri
  • diden't we just see this on the last ep of eureka?

  • DNA-based chips may sound like crackpot tech, but those involved believe the methodology could lead to a new way of fabricating features on the surface of chips that allows semiconductors to be made even smaller, faster and more power-efficient than they are today.

    You can tell if they're crackpots by weather they can complete the sentence "the methodology could lead to a new way of fabricating features on the surface of chips that allows semiconductors to be made even smaller, faster and more power-effici

  • My only question is...Who's DNA ? If it's Linus's I have no problem, but if it is Bill's or Steve's DNA I think we should burn the lab to the ground! Get your torches and pitchforks!?!?
  • The PR people who have been pushing this research around the internet today did a truly amazing job. They took a pretty good surface science paper and made it look like the breakthrough of the year.

    This research had nothing to do with computer chips. DNA origami has been around for a few years now, and this is the application of it to surfaces. When they have a *single* electrical measurement, you can start to get excited about electronics. When they have a functioning transistor, I could even live with

  • This will give a new argument against those who object to the possibility of building truly intelligent computers on the basis that they are not living organisms.

  • Not Cal.
  • Maybe they could call it the "Cell" processor. :P

  • sounds like the Battlestar Galactica remake on SciFi ir SyFy network. Human looking Cylons.

    That's the worst that can happen, right?

  • This is Cylon ver. 0.1
  • Never thought I might fix my computer with an aspirin.
  • I understand virusses are not a living organism, but essentially just a chunk of DNA that happens to contain some element of self-replicating code, and that they effectively came into existence and propagate more or less by a mix of random mutation, natural selection and accident. The fact that this would work at all sounds unlikely but after millenia has in fact been successful enough that virusses are now everywhere in millions of differnet variants.

    Consequently with the above research and others creating

Little known fact about Middle Earth: The Hobbits had a very sophisticated computer network! It was a Tolkien Ring...

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