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Nanowire crossbar array

Research opportunities

For four decades, increases in computer chip performance have fueled the technology revolution. By continually increasing processing power while decreasing costs, manufacturers have been able to put the power of yesterday's mainframes into devices as small as today's mobile phones.

They've accomplished that largely by shrinking transistors and placing more onto each chip. But transistors can only get so small before problems of heat generation, defects and basic physics get in the way.

To solve this problem, HP Labs is looking beyond conventional silicon technology to focus on the fabrication of nanometer-scale structures, and the measurement and understanding of their properties.


Our approach

We believe we have a practical, comprehensive strategy for moving computing beyond conventional silicon electronics to the world of molecular-scale electronics.

We are investigating the underlying science of nanostructures that operate at the atomic scale, looking for advantageous ways of exploiting their unique properties. Our work is inspired by the realization that the fundamental limits to the power efficiency of computation, as described by Richard Feynman and others, lie as much as a factor of one billion beyond the present capabilities of silicon integrated circuits.

We take a multidisciplinary approach to this challenge -- applying expertise in computer architecture, theoretical solid state physics, electrical engineering, materials science and physical chemistry.

Research focus

Our core research areas are:

  • nanoarchitectonics – the science of creating large systems composed of nanometer-sized components
  • nanoelectronics – the study of switching, routing and processing information in electronic form at the nanoscale
  • nanomechanics - building devices with features that are nanometers in size, as well as working on sensing and positioning things that are smaller than an atom
  • nanophotonics – studying the quantum behavior of light on length scales of a few hundred nanometers

Current work

Our core research areas are nanoscale science and the fundamental physics of switching, with a significant emphasis on molecular-scale electronics.

We also conduct research on nanoscale classical and quantum optics for information processing applications, with an emphasis on areas that complement and extend our existing nanoelectronics program.

Core to our research is nanoimprint lithography, a printing method that allows an entire wafer of circuits to be stamped out quickly and inexpensively from a master template. HP Labs was the first industrial lab to use this technology to build devices that are beyond the reach of conventional optical lithography.

We have spent several years refining nanoimprint capabilities and have developed four generations of our own nano-imprint lithography tools.

In nanoelectronics, we are working to develop defect-tolerant architectures, nanoimprint lithography methods and tools, and new nanoscale electronic switches for both memory and logic circuits. Learn more

In nanophotonics, we are exploring both classical and quantum optics for information processing applications, including provably secure communications and high-bandwidth optical communications to complement future nanoelectronics technologies. Learn more

In nanomechanics, we are pushing our deep expertise in micro-mechanical systems (MEMS) to develop ever smaller and more sensitive sensors and actuators. Learn more

Nanoarchitectonics describes our effort to integrate all these nanoscale components into large- scale working systems. Learn more

Technical contributions

HP Labs' nanotechnology research team has a long history of scientific breakthroughs, major patents and seminal publications, and has been repeatedly honored by both business and technical groups.

In 2005, Small Times magazine named the team's U.S. patent collection as the world's top nanotechnology intellectual property portfolio. The same year, the Chinese Academy of Science voted HP Labs' crossbar latch as the year’s number three scientific breakthrough (behind the Cassini and Deep Impact space missions).

Following are some our key achievements in nanoarchitectonics, nanoelectronics, nanomechanics and nanophotonics.


Developed new families of defect-tolerant computer architectures, enabling perfect operation despite the increasingly unavoidable fabrication flaws appearing on all microelectronic circuits as they shrink towards the nanometer scale.

  • Crossbar architecture -- a design in which parallel wires are crossed by a second set of wires to create a nanoscale electronic switch. This architecture can deliver memory, logic and integrated memory and logic functions. (1999-present)
  • Field programmable nanowire interconnect -- a design that dramatically improves the density and defect- tolerance of programmable silicon circuits using a nanowire interconnect in a layer above the transistors. (2007)


Designed and built some of the world's smallest nano-crosspoint electronic switches using nano-imprint lithography to pattern custom molecules and oxide nanomaterials, to demonstrate:

Nanoscale memory

  • a 64 bit nano-crosspoint memory at 50 nm half-pitch (2003)
  • a 1 kilobit nano-crosspoint memory at 30 nm half-pitch (2004)
  • a 16 kilobit nano-crosspoint memory at 17 nm half-pitch; a density not targeted until 2018 by the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (2005)

Nanoscale logic

  • the first integrated memory and logic circuit at 50 nm half-pitch (2003)
  • a nano-crosspoint latch that may replace silicon transistors by providing the signal restoration and inversion necessary for computation (2005)
  • an entirely new family of one-dimensional crosspoint switching logic (2006)

Fabricated the world’s first self-assembled silicon nanowires with perfect crystalline nano-micro connections at both ends of the nanowire (2003), and used these to show:

  • Ultra-sensitive label-free DNA sensors (2004)
  • Ultra-sensitive gas sensors (2006)


  • Built capacitance-based sensors that determine the position of devices to less than an atomic diameter. The device can be operated as a positioner with similar resolution. Working on the nanoscale requires the ability to manipulate things at this scale. (2002)
  • Developed nano-imprint lithography technology. (2004)
  • Developed high-performance inertial sensors (accelerometers and gyroscopes) that provide size, cost, performance and integration levels not previously available. (2007)


Launched in 2005, the nanophotonics program has achieved milestones in the following areas:

Quantum information processing

This work aims to build chip-scale photonic quantum information processors that could enable wholly new ways of computation. We have:

  • Demonstrated optical control of the quantum state of a single electron in nitrogen-vacancy color center (an artificial atom) in diamond, a building block for a quantum computer.
  • Developed secure quantum random bit generator for quantum communication applications.
  • Achieved quantum-entangled photon generation at the rate of millions of pairs per second for quantum computation and communication.

Negative index metamaterials

This describes our work with artificial materials fabricated with nanoimprint lithography that demonstrate a negative infraction of light. Achievements include:

  • Demonstrated superlensing with a resolution more than 10 times that of conventional lenses.
  • Modulated optical data at speeds more than 20 times current fiber optic technology.
  • Converted near-infrared light at telecommunications wavelengths (those used by telecommunications systems and optical fibers) into visible light for more efficient detection.

Photonic nanostructures

This work is aimed at starting a Moore's Law for optics, in which increasingly large amounts of optical performance are packed into small spaces at continually decreasing costs. We have:

  • Used nano-metallic structures to enhance Raman scattering by ten orders of magnitude for sensors with unprecedented sensitivity.
  • Demonstrated large-scale photonic bandgap crystal fabrication using nanoimprint lithography for chip-scale optical circuits.

Basic research & emerging markets

» Nanotechnology
» Quantum information processing
  » Information theory  
  » Market mechanisms  
  » Emerging international markets  

Related research

»  Quantum science research
»  Nanoarchitectectonics
»  Nanoelectronics
»  Nanomechanics
»  Nanophotonics

Learn more

»  Feature story: A novel way to better chips
»  Feature story: Eliminating the need for transistors
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