Researchers at HP Labs have built the first working prototypes of an important new electronic component that may lead to instant-on PCs as well as analog computers that process information the way the human brain does.The new component is called a memristor, or memory resistor. Up until today, the circuit element had only been described in a series of mathematical equations written by Leon Chua, who in 1971 was an engineering student studying non-linear circuits. Chua knew the circuit element should exist — he even accurately outlined its properties and how it would work. Unfortunately, neither he nor the rest of the engineering community could come up with a physical manifestation that matched his mathematical expression.

Thirty-seven years later, a group of scientists from HP Labs has finally built real working memristors, thus adding a fourth basic circuit element to electrical circuit theory, one that will join the three better-known ones: the capacitor, resistor and the inductor.

Researchers believe the discovery will pave the way for instant-on PCs, more energy-efficient computers, and new analog computers that can process and associate information in a manner similar to that of the human brain.