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The world's first programmable nanoprocessor has been developed and demonstrated by an interdisciplinary collaboration between teams of scientists and engineers working at The MITRE Corporation and Harvard University.
The groundbreaking prototype computer system is described in a paper published today in the journal Nature. The system represents a significant step forward in the complexity of computer circuits that can be built from nanometer-scale (i.e., molecular scale) components. It also represents an advance because the ultra-tiny nanocircuits can be programmed electronically to perform a number of different basic arithmetic and logical functions.
The versatile, ultra-tiny circuits are assembled on a tiny "tile" from sets of precisely engineered and fabricated germanium-silicon wires, surrounded by insulating shells of metal oxides, but still having a total diameter of only 30 nanometers. The novel architecture of the tiles allows a number of them to be connected to assemble even more capable nanoprocessors that could, for example, control a complex electromechanical system.
An additional feature of the advance is that the circuits in the nanoprocessor operate using very little power because their component nanometer-scale wires contain transistor switches that are "nonvolatile." Unlike transistors in conventional microcomputer circuits, once the nanowire transistors are programmed they remember without any additional expenditure of electrical power.
"Because of their very small size and very low power requirements, these new nanoprocessor circuits are building blocks that can control and enable an entirely new class of much smaller, lighter weight electronic sensors and consumer electronics," according to Shamik Das, lead engineer in MITRE's Nanosystems Group and chief architect of the nanoprocessor.
Other members of the development team at MITRE—a pioneer in the nanotechnology field since 1992—included nanotechnology laboratory director James Klemic and James Ellenbogen, chief scientist of the Nanosystems Group. The MITRE team collaborated with a five-person team at Harvard, led by Charles Lieber, a world-leading investigator in the field of nanotechnology, especially for nanowire-based innovations such as the new nanoprocessor.
Ellenbogen, who has worked for nearly two decades toward the development of computers integrated on the nanometer scale, including prior collaborations with Lieber, added that, "This new nanoprocessor represents a major milestone toward realizing the vision of a nanocomputer that was first articulated more than fifty years ago by physicist Richard Feynman."
The technical paper appears in the February 10, 2011, issue of Nature. An abstract is available online at www.nature.com/nature/journal/v470/n7333/full/nature09749.html.
About MITRE Corporation
The MITRE Corporation is a not-for-profit organization that provides systems engineering, research and development, and information technology support to the government. It operates federally funded research and development centers for the Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Internal Revenue Service and Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Department of Homeland Security, with principal locations in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va.
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Jennifer J. Shearman
Karina H. Wright
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