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We're doing something nobody's doing.

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Xuema Li spends her days working with things too small to see.

How small? As small as few nanometers. A nanometer is one millionth the size of a pinhead. Very, very small.

Her job as a member of HP Labs' molecular electronics team is nano-scaled material fabrication, which is trying to make silicon and metal nanowires as small as possible.

"It's hard because we can't see the wires, so we can't tell if they're good or bad until we look at them under very high-power magnification scope or some other technique," says Li.
Hard, but exciting. "We're doing something nobody's doing," she says.

Her team recently announced it had created the highest density electronically addressable memory reported to date, a 64-bit memory using molecules as switches.

Li, who joined HP Labs in 2000, moved to the United States from China with her daughter and husband in 1993. Despite a master's degree and seven years' experience as an engineer, she spent her first year in the U.S. as a housewife in Moscow, Idaho while her husband pursued his PhD.

Life in Idaho was somewhat different from life in hectic Beijing.

"At first it was relaxing not having to wait in line at the supermarket or fight for space on the bus. I had my own car and could drive anywhere I wanted," recalls Li. "But part of me was thinking, 'what am I going to do?' I didn't want to stay home for the rest of my life."

First she learned English. Then she picked up a second master's degree in engineering. Then the family moved, from Idaho to Ukiah in far northern California for his job, then a year later, Li moved to Silicon Valley to work as an engineer. For two years, she commuted home to Ukiah on weekends.

At HP Labs, she says, she has the freedom to experiment.

"No matter what idea comes out, my managers always say I should try it," she says. "They want input from us and they listen to us."

About Xuema

Education: MS, Material Science and Engineering, UI, Moscow, Idaho.
Native country: People's Republic of China
Joined HP Labs: 2000
Hobbies: Craft making, cooking and reading
Biggest influence: My father

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