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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 October 2007, 23:32 GMT 00:32 UK
Hand-held supercomputers 'on way'
HPCx supercomputer
It is predicted that supercomputers will shrink in size
Experts at a Scottish university say they have paved the way for the creation of tiny supercomputers which could fit in the palm of the hand.

Engineers at the University of Edinburgh studied the behaviour of wires which were 1,000 times thinner than human hair.

They then created a tool which could help develop tiny microchips.

German and Italian experts also worked on the project. Their findings will be published in the journal Science.

It is hoped that the discovery will eventually lead to medical advances, as well as hand-held PCs and mobile phones as powerful as laptops becoming available on the high street.

To create a powerful computer the size of a mobile phone, much smaller microchips with thinner wires are needed.

This will help to make small devices much more powerful in the future
Dr Michael Zaiser
University of Edinburgh

The Edinburgh researchers teamed up with colleagues from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany and the University of Rome, Italy, to look at how tiny wires behave when they are manipulated.

With the help of computers, they found that wires on a nanoscale, measured in millionths of a millimetre, behave quite differently from bigger wires.

Dr Michael Zaiser, of Edinburgh's school of engineering and electronics, said: "What we found is when we made these wires smaller and smaller they started to behave in a very funny way."

The experts in Edinburgh have created a computer programme which allows engineers to predict when these problems might arise with the wires - and how to avoid them.

The discovery should help ensure that wiring in electronic devices remains effective, even in a supercomputer the size of a matchbox.

Dr Zaiser said: "This will help to make small devices much more powerful in the future.

"Holding a supercomputer in the palm of your hand will one day be possible - and we are going to make sure all the wires are in the right place."

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