Engineers with the University at Buffalo and Intel are working to hurdle two roadblocks impeding progress of smaller, faster, and more-powerful electronic devices: electromigration and thermomigration.

High electrical current densities and high-temperature gradients cause voids within tiny metal conductors. The voids can trigger electrical breakdowns and device failure. To get around the problem, researchers plan to build semiconductor devices one atom at a time, guided by information from computer simulations. In that way they can gain precise control of material properties and hopefully stop the errant behavior.

The payoff could be huge. Circuit speed and computing power both scale with current density. Today's computers operate at a maximum of 1,000 A/cm2. The group hopes to raise that number by a factor of 1,000.

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