HP makes breakthrough in molecular electronics

Hewlett-Packard Co. unveiled what it termed a major breakthrough in molecular electronics research on Monday, bringing the company forward in its goal to build complex molecular-scale chips that will in turn be developed into a future generation of smaller, faster and cheaper chips.

The Palo Alto, Calif., company was able to create the highest density electronically addressable memory on record through its use of molecular grids, HP said in a statement. The nanotechnology advancement was announced in Stockholm by Stan Williams, an HP fellow and director of quantum science research at HP Labs, HP said.

Through its latest developments, 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 the circuit using rewritable, nonvolatile molecular-switch devices, HP said.

The circuit, a 64-bit memory 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 mold of eight parallel lines, each only 40 nanometers 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, HP said. The mold allows an entire wafer of circuits to be stamped out quickly and inexpensively from a master.

Four U.S. 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 HP and UCLA have developed are built using a simple grid of nanowires of a few atoms wide, using rare earth metals which naturally align themselves when they react chemically with a silicon substrate.