Advances in Integrated Circuits
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Among the most advanced integrated circuits are the microprocessors or "cores", which control everything from computers and cellular phones to digital microwave ovens. Digital memory chips and ASICs are examples of other families of integrated circuits that are important to the modern information society. While the cost of designing and developing a complex integrated circuit is quite high, when spread across typically millions of production units the individual IC cost is minimized. The performance of ICs is high because the small size allows short traces which in turn allows low power logic (such as CMOS) to be used at fast switching speeds.
ICs have consistently migrated to smaller feature sizes over the years, allowing more circuitry to be packed on each chip. This increased capacity per unit area can be used to decrease cost and/or increase functionality—see Moore's law which, in its modern interpretation, states that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every two years. In general, as the feature size shrinks, almost everything improves—the cost per unit and the switching power consumption go down, and the speed goes up. However, ICs with nanometer-scale devices are not without their problems, principal among which is leakage current (see subthreshold leakage for a discussion of this), although these problems are not insurmountable and will likely be solved or at least ameliorated by the introduction of high-k dielectrics. Since these speed and power consumption gains are apparent to the end user, there is fierce competition among the manufacturers to use finer geometries. This process, and the expected progress over the next few years, is well described by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS).
In current research projects, integrated circuits are also developed for sensoric applications in medical implants or other bioelectronic devices. Particular sealing strategies have to be taken in such biogenic environments to avoid corrosion or biodegradation of the exposed semiconductor materials. As one of the few materials well established in CMOS technology, titanium nitride (TiN) turned out as exceptionally stable and well suited for electrode applications in medical implants.
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