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Will memristors prove irresistible?

The transistor was invented in 1925 but lay dormant until finding a corporate champion in Bell Labs during the 1950s. Now another groundbreaking electronic circuit may be poised for the same kind of success after languishing as an academic curiosity for more than three decades.

Hewlett-Packard Labs is attempting to catapult the memristor, the fourth passive circuit element after resistors, capacitors and inductors, into the electronics mainstream. Invented in 1971, this “memory resistor” represents a potential revolution in electronic-circuit theory akin to the invention of the transistor — and perhaps its time has finally come. But as with that earlier device, it will take a killer application to get it off the ground.

Where the hearing aid played that role for the transistor, Hewlett-Packard Labs (Palo Alto, Calif.) hopes resistive random-access memories (RRAMs) will open the floodgates for the memristor. HP Labs is promising prototypes of these ultradense memory cells next year.

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