Forget silicon and return to valves

Eniac-USarmyPhoto700Boffins looking for ways around Moore’s Law have decided that transistors are a bad idea and they need to go back to the vacuum tubes – read valves – of the early computers.

Of course, the vacuum tubes are a little smaller than those used in the codebreaking WW2 computers – those under development at Caltech’s Nanofabrication Group are a million times smaller.

Alan Huang, a former electrical engineer for Bell Laboratories, told the New York Times. “Some of the same algorithms that were developed for the last generation can sometimes be used for the next generation.”

Dr. Axel Scherer, head of the Nanofabrication Group said silicon transistors employed in most computing gadgets only take us so far. Some of the best minds in the world are working on smaller-than-ever transistors.

However, at this size silicon becomes more elastic, and starts to give out light. Silicon transistors also leak electrons, which can be embarrassing in a public place.

Vacuum tubes could prove a better solution at these sizes. The tubes can be made out of a variety of metals, and allow for innovative solutions that could consume less power than silicon chips.

The tech has attracted big investments. Boeing has been putting its money into researching vacuum tube chip research, possibly appearing in the aviation industry before 2020, but it may be a very long time before we see the fruits of Caltech research.