Moore's Law has been working for silicon technology for the past
50 years. About every two years, semiconductor performance doubles.
But that could come to an end in about a decade. The laws of physics
will make further advances simply impossible. Even if it didn't,
Moore's lesser-known Second Law - that the cost of a fabrication
facility increases at an even greater rate — could make it financially
Enter the Quantum Science Research (QSR) lab in HP Labs, the company's central research
"We're looking for ways to extend Moore's Law another 50 years
beyond the limits of silicon," says Stan Williams, HP Fellow and QSR director.
Williams was in Stockholm recently as one of four speakers invited
to address a symposium celebrating the 175th anniversary of the
Swedish Royal Institute of Technology. He used the occasion to discuss
his group's latest work — including three dramatic breakthroughs.
HP announced that it had:
Williams also announced that Yong Chen, a senior scientist in QSR,
had been awarded a U.S. patent for nano-imprint lithography.
- created the highest density electronically addressable memory
reported to date. The laboratory demonstration circuit — a 64-bit
memory using molecules as switches — occupies a square micron
of space, an area so tiny that more than 1,000 could fit on the
end of a single strand of a human hair. The bit density of the
device is more than 10 times greater than today's silicon memory
- combined, for the first time, both memory and logic using rewritable,
non-volatile molecular-switch devices; and
- fabricated the circuits using an advanced system of manufacturing
called nano-imprint lithography — essentially a printing method
that allows an entire wafer of circuits to be stamped out quickly
and inexpensively from a master.
Chen's method describes how to make a "master" or mold of a chip,
using electron beam lithography. The master can then be used to
stamp out copies, just like a printing press. (Sort of gives new
meaning to HP being in the "printing"
business.) The potential is virtually limitless.
"We expect that this method will be much less expensive than the
current photolithographic techniques used for creating chips," Williams
Chen's patent is the fourth for the group. "We take 'Invent' seriously,"
Williams said, "and, even though we're engaged in basic research,
we also take business seriously. All of these patents are aimed
at making this technology affordably manufacturable."
The first products could be a replacement for flash memory or for
use in other high-density, portable devices. They could be ready
in five to 10 years, says Williams.
Silicon isn't going away, of course. The molecular-scale chips
will also be used to supplement traditional silicon structures.
Today's chips could become, in effect, the motherboards for the
The type of computing power that could be delivered by molecular-scale
electronics could provide devices so tiny that they could be part
of the fabric of clothing. And they could be powerful enough to
understand ordinary speech. (You might want to be careful about
walking down the street, talking to your shirt.)
As part of his invitation to Stockholm, Williams also had dinner
with the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf. He's scheduled to give
his presentation in Spain on Tuesday and Germany on Friday.
"Computing efficiency has increased by a factor of about 100 million
in the past 40 years," says Williams, "but there appear to be no
physical reasons why it can't be improved by a factor of a billion.
"In some sense, you could say that the age of computing hasn't
even begun yet."