Both economic and general physics considerations indicate that the rapid improvements we have come to expect in silicon integrated circuits will saturate around the year 2010. However, fundamental physical laws indicate that it should be possible to compute with a power efficiency that is at least one billion times better than present silicon electronics.1 The most straightforward way currently known to achieve such efficiencies are to fabricate circuits very much smaller than they are at present. Thus, there is a tremendous business incentive to invent new electronic devices and circuits that will have dimensions of the order of nanometers. In addition, new fabrication techniques will be required that can inexpensively produce and connect these devices in vast quantities. The challenges are equivalent to those faced by the inventors of both the transistor and the integrated circuit, who replaced the existing vacuum-tube and wiring technologies with solid-state switches and lithographic fabrication, respectively. In order to satisfy both requirements simultaneously, we have assembled a transdisciplinary team of chemists, physicists, engineers and computer scientists at HP Labs and the University of California Los Angeles.
Two complementary research areas relevant to future nanoelectronic systems are currently under investigation: (1) the development of quantum-state (molecular) switching
Our research group and our partners at the University of California Los Angeles have recently demonstrated that it is possible to construct molecular switches in a solid state device that can be set and read electronically.3 We are now designing and testing new types of reversible switches, as well as fabricating the nanowires4 needed to connect the circuit elements together. Once we have the appropriate switches and wires, the next significant step will be integrating them together into more complex structures that perform useful computational functions.5 There is very real progress on many different fronts, but there are still significant opportunities and requirements for invention and discovery before nanoelectronics are a reality.
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