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A new process for forming ultrathin components of microchips eventually will allow significantly more information to be stored on them, University of Texas researchers say.

They announced this week that their process lowers by hundreds of degrees the temperature at which thin layers of crystalline silicon material--the building blocks of microchips--can be grown.Although the process won't be fully felt in the microelectronics industry for a decade, university officials called it a major breakthrough.

A.F. Tasch, a developer of the process and a professor of computer and electrical engineering, said using lower temperatures for crystalline silicon growth would allow much smaller transistors to be built and many more transistors to be put on a single microchip.

The result: a chip that could hold substantially more date while remaining the same size.

He called it a major step in paving the way for the microelectronics industry to go "from millions to billions of devices on a single chip."

"If you want to make integrated circuits that have greater computing power to store more information, you have to make transistors smaller and smaller," Tasch said.

"The industry is reaching a point where these transistor structures we are using today cannot be shrunk any smaller. In order to come up with new transistor concepts which work at even smaller dimensions, whatever you build has to be done with lower temperatures."

Tasch and his University of Texas colleague, S.K. Banerjee, worked with a team at the Research Triangle Institute in North Carolina to develop the process.

Traditionally, making microchips involves a series of steps at temperatures often exceeding 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. The new process allows single-crystal growth as low as 300 degrees Fahrenheit.