Silicon chips have been the backbone of the computer industry for decades. To date, nobody has found a compelling alternative for most machines. But silicon chips are reaching their physical limits; they can only get so small before the current in the transistors starts to leak, leaving switches in the on position when they should be off.
Now for the first time engineers at Stanford University have demonstrated a working computer made of carbon nanotubes. It isn't very powerful, running a billion times slower than a typical desktop or laptop, and it hasn't got that many transistors - only 178, where even a mobile phone has millions. But it was able to do simple mathematical operations and demonstrate the technology can work. The new kind of computer was described in the journal Nature.
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Carbon nanotubes are made of a single layer of carbon atoms rolled into a tube. They've been on the radar of computer scientists for years because they can conduct electricity, be turned on and off and are small, nanometer-sized, which makes them ideal with packing into tighter spaces. Essentially they could lead to super-small, super powerful computer chips.