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5 in 5: Five ways technology will change our lives within five years.

Sustainable materials, sustainable products, sustainable planet

Graphic design of photoresists on top of blue water puddle on green leaf

What’s happening today

Human beings are makers. The things we manufacture can make our lives and jobs better, safer, healthier and even more fun.

But it’s clear that the vast quantity and wide array of materials and goods that we produce for the nearly 8 billion people in the world take their toll on the planet.

Many of these materials are in the finished products we use every day, while others are only used during the manufacturing of those items and are invisible to consumers.

The prediction

Consider all of the phones, TVs, cars, medical machines and other semiconductor chip-powered products that underlie our modern way of life. There are now many billions more of these smart devices in the world than there are people on our planet. So, it’s imperative that all of the chemicals, materials, and processes involved in their manufacture are as sustainable as possible.

Two scientists working in front of computer monitors with wall of computing equipment behind them
In the next five years, we will advance materials manufacturing, enabling semiconductor manufacturers to improve the sustainability of their coveted products.

Solutions for the future

Semiconductor transistors have long been shrinking, giving us smaller and more powerful gadgets as manufacturers cram ever more processing power onto a single chip. This shrinking—a process called scaling—has been enabled, in a substantial part, by materials known as photoresists.

IBM was the first company to create and deploy modern photoresists more than three decades ago and chipmakers have used them ever since. Now, as semiconductor chips become more widely used than ever, IBM is helping lead the way once more to ensure that the materials used to manufacture them are more efficient, effective and safe.

Man holding a cell phone and standing in front of a table covered in parts

Developments at IBM Research

The accelerated discovery cycle will allow scientists to aggregate and analyze known information about photoresist chemicals and materials from patents and the public literature. The use of this knowledge will drive modelling on traditional, high-performance computing systems and, in the future, on quantum computers. The combined results will be used to build AI models that automatically suggest new classes of compounds that meet specific efficiency and environmental targets. The most promising of these can then be tested experimentally with robotic systems, which can synthesize these molecular candidates with little human intervention.

The work won’t be easy. Materials science and chemistry are among the most challenging fields of research, and the materials used in semiconductor manufacturing are complex and require many components to interact in very specific ways. The traditional trial-and-error method of seeking the right combinations of compounds and materials is too time-consuming and prohibitively expensive.

That’s why, over the next five years, scientists will embrace a new approach to materials design that enables the tech industry to more quickly produce sustainable materials for the production of semiconductors and electronic devices. That work could further help other manufacturers develop new, higher performance, yet safer and more environmentally-preferable materials to build products of all kinds.

Two female lab workers in blue coveralls and rubber gloves looking at a computer monitor