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Molecular Electronics Team a Scientific Melting Pot

November 2002

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One scientist was an organizer of the pro-democracy movement in China. Another, a refugee from Communist Vietnam. The group's chemist once worked in the Alaskan oil fields.

There are only eight, but they range in age from early 30s to 70. They hail from China, Korea, Canada, Vietnam, The Netherlands and the United States. Their scientific specialties include engineering, engineering physics, applied physics, chemistry and materials science.

We have a common goal and we want to make it work.
You have chemists talking to physicists, computer architects talking with chemists.

The team is one of HP Labs' most diverse -- and also one of its most successful. Researchers recently distinguished themselves by creating the highest-density electronically addressable memory known to date, a 64-bit memory that uses molecules as switches.

The goal: to develop integrated circuits that are a billion times more efficient than today's chips, but just a fraction of the size and cost.

"Computing efficiency has increased by a factor of about 100 million in the past 40 years, but there appear to be no physical reasons why it can't be improved by a factor of a billion," says Stan Williams, director of the Quantum Science Research (QSR) group, who initiated and leads molecular electronics research at HP.

The team works, scientists say, precisely because of its diversity. The eight who produced the recent device work closely with a computer architect, a theoretical physicist from the former Soviet Union and an electrical engineer who is a leading expert on silicon, among others.

We didn't set out to create diversity, we just picked the best people we could find and got them here.

"We didn't set out to create diversity, we just picked the best people we could find and got them here," says Yong Chen, technical lead and a former pro-democracy organizer in China. "It turned out to be very stimulating to have people from all over the world working together."

"You have chemists talking to physicists, computer architects talking with chemists," says Tan Ha, a former Vietnamese boat person who now configures some of the one-of-a-kind equipment used to assemble molecular devices.

Other recent achievements by this scientific melting pot:

  • They combined, for the first time, memory and logic using rewritable, non-volatile molecular switch devices.
  • They developed a system for fabricating circuits called nano-imprint lithography, a printing method that allows an entire wafer of circuits to be stamped out quickly and inexpensively from a master.

Also, this week members of the QSR group scored triple scientific wins, including receiving their seventh key patent. See related story.

"You have people from all different technical fields who normally don't speak the same language, and now they're working together," says Doug Ohlberg, a chemist and former oil field worker."

Other factors in the group's success? The freedom to pursue "long shots," scientists say, and an ethos of cooperation.

"We have a common goal and we want to make it work," says Regina Ragan, a post-doc whose job is to grow and analyze molecular wires.

"Essentially, we're all on one big team and we either sink or swim," says Duncan Stewart, who tests and analyzes the molecular devices.

There's also a feeling of excitement around making a scientific contribution.

"I think what makes this team work is that everyone feels the importance of what we're doing right now, not just for HP," says Ha. "Working with this group is not a job -- it's a privilege."

The eight members of the team are Yong Chen, technical lead; Tan Ha, Gun-Young Jung, Xuema Li, Doug Ohlberg, Regina Ragan, Duncan Stewart and Hylke Wiersma.

The team is encompassed by the Quantum Science Research group, led by Stan Williams, and collaborates with other members in QSR, including Alex Bratkovski, Ted Kamins, Philip Kuekes, Pavel Kornilovich, Zhiyong Li, Jeanie Lau, Shun-Chi Chang and Brian Samuels.

The group also works with numerous researchers in the Information Access Lab, the Hardcopy Technology Lab, Information Technology Research and the Technology Development Organization, as well as with other internal HP and external partners.

All stories in this package were written by Jamie Beckett. The photographer and designer was Trang Vu.

News and Events

Team Profiles:

» Yong Chen
» Tan Ha
» Gun-Young Jung
» Xuema Li
» Doug Ohlberg
» Regina Ragan
» Duncan Stewart
» Hylke Wiersma
» Scientists Score Triple Wins
» Quantum Science Research
» Archives
molecular electronics team  members: from left, Xuema Li, Duncan Stewart, Regina Ragan, Tan Ha, Yong Chen, Gun-Young Jung, Hylke Wiersma, Doug Ohlberg.
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