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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chip Limit Seen

WASHINGTON -- Everything has limits, including how small computer chips can get.

The question has been just how small could they get, and when would we reach that limit. Now, David Muller and colleagues at Lucent Technologies' Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, say they've determined just how small silicon chips can get using current technologies.

The researchers measured the chemical composition and electronic structure at the atomic level, across "gate oxides," which are the narrowest part of chips at the heart of today's computers.

The minimum thickness needed for the silicon dioxide film to function is four atoms, the researchers report in the June 24 issue of the journal Nature. If manufacturers continue to shrink chips at the current rate, they'll reach that limit by about2012, the researchers estimate.