The patterning phenomenon responsible for forming seashells, snowflakes and enamel on teeth appears to have been harnessed by the chip maker. According to the firm, its process creates trillions of 20 nm holes that provide insulating vacuums around the kilometres of nanoscale wires packed next to each other inside each computer chip.

"This is the first time that anyone has proven the ability to synthesize mass quantities of these self-assembled polymers and integrate them into an existing manufacturing process with great yield results," said Dan Edelstein, IBM fellow and chief scientist of the self-assembly "airgap" project. "By moving self assembly from the lab to the fab, we are able to make chips that are smaller, faster and consume less power than existing materials and design architectures allow."

IBM is quoting laboratory tests, which show that the electrical signals on its self-assembled chips can flow 35% faster. Alternatively, the chips can consume 15% less energy compared with the most advanced chips made using conventional techniques.

The self-assembly process has already been integrated with the firm's East Fishkill manufacturing line, New York, US, and devices featuring the technology are expected to make their commercial debut in 2009. IBM says that its self-assembled chips will be used initially in the firm's own line of server products.