A programmable processor built from nanowires could lead to chips that are far more efficient than current CMOS processors.
The prototype system is built on a tiny grid of nanowires that can be programmed to perform the key mathematics and logic functions of processing, the Harvard University engineers said, claiming the system turns chip building on its head.
"This work represents a quantum jump forward in the complexity and function of circuits built from the bottom up," said principal professor Charles Lieber, who described the chip's internals as looking like a fly-screen mesh.
The bottom-up approach is a fundamental reversal from current "top-down" methods, which stencil patterns onto blank semiconducting chips.
According to the researchers, as well as being potentially simpler to build than current chips, the tiled architecture is fully scalable, allowing the assembly of much larger and more functional nanoprocessors.
The chips would also benefit from low power requirements because the circuits use transistor switches that are non-volatile, meaning they require no electricity in order to retain information.
The potential for low-power, high impact processors means the technology could be hugely attractive to manufacturers, the researchers said.
"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," said co-researcher Shamik Das.
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