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To be sure, the company has hedged its bet by being cautious with funding. Williams’s group has a four-year, $12.5 million grant from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and HP provides matching funds, but about half of the DARPA funding goes to university research partners. Signs of economizing are everywhere in the lab, from a shortage of supplies in the coffee room to jury-rigged equipment. Nonetheless, the group has made one breakthrough after another-most notably, by proving that a “crossbar” design once common in conventional electronics can be resurrected on the molecular scale. In a demonstration last year, the group trapped molecules in the junctions between titanium and platinum nanowires arranged in an eight-by-eight, one-micrometer-square grid, and showed that the molecules can be switched “on” and “off” at specific junctions-a first step in building a working memory or logic device.

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