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Nanoscale latch could replace transistor, claims HP

Posted: 04 Feb 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:transistor? computing? electronics? switchable? computer?

Hewlett-Packard Co. claimed Tuesday (Feb. 1) that its researchers have proven that a technology they invented could replace the transistor, the fundamental building block of all contemporary computing and electronics. The company claims its nanometer-scaled &quote;crossbar latch&quote; could be the replacement for the transistor, just as the transistor replaced the vacuum tube in the middle of the last century.

In a paper published in the Journal of Applied Physics, three members of HP Labs' quantum science research (QSR) group have demonstrated a crossbar latch, which provides the signal restoration and inversion required for general computing without the need for transistors, HP said. The company went on to claim that the cross-bar latch could result in computers that are thousands of times more powerful than those in use today.

The latch consists of a single wire acting as a signal line, crossed by two control lines with an electrically switchable molecular-scale junction where they intersect. By applying a sequence of voltage impulses to the control lines and using switches oriented in opposite polarities, the latch can perform the NOT operation, which, along with AND and OR operations, the essential logic functions for general computing. In addition, the crossbar latch can restore a logic level in a circuit to a nominal voltage, which allows a designer to chain logic gates together to perform computations.

"The crossbar latch provides a key element needed for building a computer using nanometer-sized devices that are relatively inexpensive and easy to build," said Stan Williams, HP Senior Fellow and QSR director and one of the authors of the paper, in a statement issued by HP.

"Transistors will continue to be used for years to come with conventional silicon circuits but this could someday replace transistors in computers, just as transistors replaced vacuum tubes and vacuum tubes replaced electromagnetic relays before them," said Phil Kuekes, senior computer architect, QSR, another one of the paper's authors, in the same statement.

Kuekes was previously awarded a patent on the crossbar latch (U.S. 6,586,965) in July 2003, and the Journal of Applied Physics report, titled "The crossbar latch: Logic value storage, restoration and inversion in crossbar circuits," demonstrates the application of the technology.

Duncan Stewart, a QSR scientist and the third author, performed most of the testing that demonstrated that the device actually works. The paper underwent rigorous peer review before being published.

"We have previously demonstrated that we could make a working memory with molecular-scale junctions and logic devices that could perform simple logic operations such as AND and OR," Stewart said. "With the crossbar latch, we now have the final component theoretically needed for performing the multiple processing steps required for useful computing at the nanoscale."

- Peter Clarke

Silicon Strategies





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