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Nowhere Near Room Temp Superconductors

On-chip metal interconnects limit IC speed in many advanced design today, and with signal delay proportional to the product of the resistance (R) of wires and the capacitance (C) of dielectric insulation, wires with R lower than that of copper (Cu) metal would significantly improve IC performance. We know of superconductors—materials with zero resistance to electrical current flow—but only at “critical temperature” (Tc) well below 77°K, and so there has been an ongoing quest by scientists to find a material with Tc above room temperature of 298°K.

Sadly, after 4 years and nearly 1000 materials tested, a team of 6 Japanese research groups led by Hideo Hosono from the Tokyo Institute of Technology found no room temperature superconductors. They did find 100 previously unknown superconductors with Tc <56°K, and they published crystal structures and phase diagrams of all materials studied to help other researchers avoid now known dead-ends (DOI: 10.1088/1468-6996/16/3/033503).

Other researchers continue to explore the possibilities of using one-dimensional (1D) carbon-based materials such as carbon-nano-tubes (CNT) or graphene as on-chip conductors. So far, there are extreme difficulties in controlling the growth of such 1D structures within interconnect patterns, and additional challenges with forming ohmic contacts between CNT and Cu lines across billions of connections in a modern IC. More science is seemingly needed to find new paths before the engineers can explore those paths to find better solutions. Meanwhile…for the next few years at least…expect Cu metal to be the continued choice for nearly all multi-level metal interconnects on chip.

—E.K.

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