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The most pressing need for miniaturization on the nanoscale is in the field of consumer electronics. Current top-down lithographic techniques are reaching their fundamental limits. At some point, we will no longer be able to produce faster, more efficient, and denser microchips at an affordable price.
Luckily, nanotechnology has a lot of promise in electronic applications. At the most basic level, nanoelectronics should theoretically use less power, generate less heat, and work more efficiently than its larger counterparts in the micro realm. These properties are predicted through known scaling laws, and have also been proven in a number of experiments.
The major problem right now is finding a way to make nanoelectronics feasible for consumer electronics. Our modern equipment happens to be fairly robust: cell phones can take a lot of damage before they break, and computers can work for several years before problems arise. Many proof of concept demonstrations in nanotechnology are not only extremely fragile, but they don't always respond well to normal atmospheric conditions.
Right now there are already a lot of different products on the market. For the most part, they are not really applications of nanotechnology. Instead, they are really just micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS). The interesting thing about MEMS is that much of the thinking that goes into it can later be used for some applications for the nanoscale version of the field.
A number of exciting nanoelectronics demonstrations have already been published. Lasers, molecular switches, p-n junctions, logic gates, and early forms of memory have all been made in the lab.
It will be some time before scientists and engineers can bring all these different components (that are all synthesized with vastly different techniques) together into an integrated device. That's the true end-goal of nanoelectronics research: a nano-computer.
In the following sections we will discuss the latest developments in nanoelectronics and MEMS.