Electronic Design

Patent Awarded For Nanowire Technology

A pair of scientists at Hewlett-Packard in Palo Alto, Calif., have received a patent for technology that makes the use of molecule-sized circuitry in demultiplexer ICs much easier. Scientists Phil Kuekes and Stan Williams have developed a way to connect molecular-scale devices to much larger integrated circuits.

Currently, demultiplexer construction requires an extremely precise and complex pattern of connections. It's virtually impossible to make such precise connections with molecular-scale wires, though. Instead, the new patent proposes making connections randomly through a chemical process. The resulting pattern then can be determined through computer algorithms.

"We've essentially created a city of streets crossed by avenues, but they're so tiny we can't paint the street signs," Kuekes said. "Instead, we have a chemical process that gives each street and avenue a unique name. Then we run a program that identifies all the thoroughfares by their names and enables us to create a map of the city. Once you have that map, you can store and retrieve information at any intersection."

This work builds on a patent awarded last October for a method of building a memory device from switchable molecules sandwiched between grids of nanometer-scale wires. This collaboration with UCLA scientist James Heath also demonstrated molecular-scale electronic switches and their connecting "nanowires," which are six to 10 atoms wide and two atoms tall. HP and UCLA researchers are now working on fabricating circuits from these components.

The researchers believe this project will yield a 16-kbit memory by 2005. This is critical, as some experts believe silicon technology will reach key physical and economic limits by about 2012. Molecular technology could augment silicon-based ICs within the decade and eventually replace traditional solid-state memories. When that happens, computers should be millions of times more efficient than they are today.

For details, go to www.hp.com.

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