HP researchers have created a molecular-scale device that they say could one day replace the transistors used in today's computer chips.

In a research paper [pdf], the three researchers from HP's Quantum Science Research Group describe how they created a tiny device that can perform one of the essential logic functions in computing devices that measure just nanometers across.

The technology could eventually be used to complement and even replace current transistors, which are expected to hit certain physical limits in the coming years that will prevent them from being made any smaller. The researchers said their technology could lead to computers that are thousands of times more powerful than those that exist today.

The researchers have developed a "crossbar latch" that consists of a single wire crossed by two other wires with molecular-scale junctions where the wires intersect. By applying a sequence of electrical impulses, the latch can perform the so-called NOT operation, which along with AND and OR is one of three basic operations that make up the primary logic of a computer circuit.

The crossbar latch provides a key element needed for building computers using nanoscale devices that are relatively cheap and easy to build, Stan Williams, an HP senior fellow and director of the quantum research group, said in the statement. "We are re-inventing the computer at the molecular scale," he said.

The research group is trying to figure out a way to mass produce the devices economically.