Nanotechnology breakthrough promises faster chips

Hewlett-Packard has unveiled what it says is a major breakthrough in molecular electronics research which will eventually lead to...

Hewlett-Packard has unveiled what it says is a major breakthrough in molecular electronics research which will eventually lead to a future generation of smaller, faster and cheaper computer chips.

The company has been able to create the highest density electronically addressable memory on record through its use of molecular grids. Stan Williams, an HP fellow and director of quantum science research at HP Labs, announced the nanotechnology development in Stockholm, Sweden.

HP has created a laboratory demonstration circuit using a system of manufacturing called nano-imprint lithography (a combination of optical and electron beam lithography) that for the first time has combined both memory and logic on a circuit using rewritable, nonvolatile molecular-switch devices, HP said.

The circuit, a 64-bit memory system using molecular switches as active devices, is less than one square micron in size, and has a bit density more than 10 times greater than today's silicon memory chips, HP said.

HP researchers began the process by making a master mould of eight parallel lines, each only 40 nanometres wide, and then followed up with a three-step molecular grids process that lays down molecular strands, filled with platinum metal to form wires, in a layered crisscross pattern. The mould allows an entire wafer of circuits to be stamped out quickly and inexpensively from a master.

Four US patents have been awarded in connection with this work and scientific papers are being submitted to reviewed technical journals for publication, HP said.

HP has been working, often in conjunction with the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), to develop the technology needed to build complex molecular-scale chips. The chips are not only smaller, but also faster than current technology while being more energy-efficient and cheaper to produce.

HP and UCLA hold a three-part patent covering nanoscale logic gates, molecular-switch memory chips and the ability to connect nanochips to existing microchips. The chips developed by the two organisations are built using a simple grid of nanowires a few atoms wide, using rare earth metals which naturally align themselves when they react chemically with a silicon substrate.

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