Hewlett Packard and their Atomic Pixie Dust

  07/21/2001 5:59:39 AM MDT Albuquerque, Nm
  By Dustin D. Brand; Owner AMO

We're talking molecular computing here.
  Hewlett-Packard Co. researchers have won a new U.S. patent, which with a solution called "Atomic Pixie Dust" allows them to hook up molecuar sized computers to the real world.

"It is essentially shake and bake and we don't have any mechanical precision," he said. "When you do things chemically, they don't turn out perfectly, and it turns out it doesn't matter." Phil Kuekes, a computer architect at HP Labs, said in a telephone interview.

One obvious advantage to molecular computing is size, but lets not forget speed. The less the data has to travel, the faster it can travel and not only does molecular computing benefit here, but also in price. Silicon based semiconductors are expensive to manufacture, and are also reaching their theoretical limits.

In this new approach of molecular computing, scientists sprinkle their dust and then determine how it has settled and what gaps have been bridged between molecular wires, Kuekes said. Any missed connections are identified and ignored, so they are not problems.

While this new "Atomic Pixie Dust" Patent hasn't currently materialized anything tangible, the HP Scientists plan to make a 16 kilobit molecular memory chip by 2005. I'd suggest they try and work a bit faster, and maybe aim for 2002 or early 2003 - we may just hit the silicon barrier much faster than anticipated.

"Once you've built a circuit from molecular-scale devices -- something about the size of a bacterium -- the question is how you get data into and out of it," Kuekes said in a statement. This is wherein the problem lies. How do you get the data from the molecular components? The answer is obviously - more molecular components - not regular sized wires.

The molecular chips are made out of two layers of "nanowires" that are actually crystals 6 to 10 atoms wide and 2 atoms tall. The crystals can be grown in parallel and laid on top of each other to create a grid.

Each intersection of nanowires can contain a molecule that moves when energy passes through the grid, becoming an on-off binary switch needed for computer memory and computation. This is yet another demonstration of Nanotechnology which will revolutionize nearly every aspect of humankind.

The challenge was to connect those sandwiches to the relatively huge wires, 100 times bigger, that are part of today's computers. The patent is for the concept of throwing atomic dust, based on gold and other molecules, between the ends of nanowires and wires. It also covers a testing process which assigns identities to the connections, making it possible to control them.

The patent covers the idea, but the connections still need to be built, said Kuekes. "This is a research strategy. We are not claiming we've built one."

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