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This paper reports a new nanocrystal quantum-dot (NC-QD)-based tunable on-chip electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection mechanism and structures. Experiments validated the programmable ESD protection concept. Prototype structures achieved an adjustable ESD triggering voltage range of 2.5 V, very fast response to ESD transients of rising time tr ~ 100 ps and pulse duration td; ~ ns, ESD protection density of 25 mA/μm in human body model and 400 mA/μm in charged device model equivalent stressing, and a very low leakage current of Ileak ~ 15 pA. The NC-QD ESD protection concept can potentially be used to design field-programmable on-chip ESD protection circuitry for mixed-signal ICs in nanoscales.