Hewlett-Packard Co. researchers will introduce groundbreaking nanotechnology today that could replace traditional transistors on computer chips with tiny, molecular structures — a development that could make smaller, more powerful machines possible.

The work is part of the $213 billion semiconductor industry’s mad dash to find new ways of miniaturizing computer chips and overcoming the physical limitations on how small transistors can be shrunk.

The industry is constantly trying to build smaller devices with more computing power. The current boom in miniature music players and cell phones with multiple capabilities are examples of smaller chips making handheld devices more useful and marketable. The promise of even-smaller chips holds similar business opportunities for Silicon Valley and beyond.

Stanley Williams, director of HP Labs’ Quantum Science Research in Palo Alto, said Monday he believed the traditional way of making chips by squeezing more transistors on a piece of silicon will hit an insurmountable wall by 2011 or 2012.

“We know that the (current semiconductor technology) will come to an end, ” he said. “What this provides is an opportunity for the functionality of the electronics to get much better after (chips) run into that roadblock.”

Even if the breakthrough is adopted by the chip industry, experts don’t expect it to be market-ready for at least another seven years.

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