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HP-UCLA collaboration awarded molecular electronics patent

Posted: 29 Jan 2002 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:hewlett-packard? ucla? logic chip? wire? molecular electronic?

Hewlett-Packard Co. and the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) have received a U.S. patent for technology that could make possible inexpensive, complex logic chips built in the molecular scale. The collaboration is pursuing molecular electronics as an entirely new technology that could augment silicon-based ICs and eventually replace them. The HP-UCLA invention proposes the use of a simple grid of wires wherein each wire just a few atoms wide is connected by electronic switches a single molecule thick.

In a related experiment, researchers from the collaboration crossed wires the size of those used in today's computer chips and sandwiched them around a one-molecule-thick layer of electrically switchable molecules called rotaxanes. Simple logic gates were then created electronically by downloading signals to molecules trapped between the crosswires.

Philip J. Kuekes, a senior scientist and computer architect at HP Labs, notes, "Once a basic grid has been assembled, programming could be used to implement a very complex logic design by electronically setting the appropriate configuration switches in the molecular-scale structure."

The problem is that on a single large grid all the electrical signals would interfere with each other," said Williams, director of quantum science research, HP Labs. "It would be like removing all the traffic signals from Manhattan and demanding a minimum speed of 30mphthe result would be total gridlock. Signal lights, or cut wires, regulate the flow of traffic and make it possible to carry passengers, or information, between any two points on the grid."

The solution proposed by the patented invention is to cut the wires into smaller lengths by turning some "intersections" into insulators. The insulators are created by "cutter wires," which are chemically distinct from the others. A voltage difference between the cutter wire and the target wire creates the insulator.

"Essentially, you subdivide the city into smaller neighborhoods, with smaller local streets within each neighborhood and larger streets connecting the neighborhoods," Williams adds.

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