Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Another silent earthquake

We will look back on today with wonder. It's not often that we are witness to a scientific discovery worthy of "era" status. But here it is. In 1971, Leon Chua published a paper that essentially ended the era of vacuum-tube computing and launched the era solid state computing. Consider that in the span of under 30 years - from the 1960's to the 1980's - computers went from warehouse-sized to desktop-sized, and in less than 20 years have shrunken to palm-sized. That's what Dr. Chua's paper did.

But that paper described a missing piece of the electronics puzzle. He described resistors, capacitors and inductors in that paper, and further postulated that there was a fourth element, which he called a "memristor." The details of what a memristor are found in the article (link below), but all Dr. Chua could do at the time was describe what one is. No one had ever been able to build one that actually did what he said it could do. The memristor remained a theoretical possibility until today.

H-P announced that they have discovered a way to build a working memristor. This opens up amazing possibilities for miniaturization, for power efficiency gains, and for speed gains. If they can scale the manufacture of these devices, then it will do for electronics what the transistor did for electronics. This is really, really exciting stuff!

The Article in InformationWeek can be found here: Link to Article

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