On tomorrow's chips, transistors could come in the shape of carbon nanotubes--tiny, bacteria-size clumps of atoms. While researchers have been suggesting this for years, two new university projects indicate that carbon nanotechnology is getting set to move from laboratories to factories.

Materials-science researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have found a clever way to make nano-tubes into on/off switches. Such transistors could pave the way to nanotube circuits on futuristic chips the size of a pinhead. The basic idea is deceptively simple: Make an X with two nanotubes. Getting the nano X to work like a switch took some jiggering, though. That's because nanotubes are slippery buggers--minute changes can produce huge shifts in their electrical properties.

Finding ways to stabilize the characteristics of carbon nanotubes is a focus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the Apr. 21 issue of Science, a multidisciplinary team reports that a particular catalyst used to create nanotubes seems to tip the balance toward their behaving more like a metal than an insulator. As the production methods are refined, it may be possible to crank out nanotubes with stable, predictable properties.

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