Scientists have developed an ultra-thin memory storage device that, they believe, could pave the way for more powerful computing in the near future.
For years, engineers have explored ways to pack more memory into smaller computer chips. Now, a team of electrical engineers at the University of Texas in Austin have designed what they claim is a thin-memory storage device capable of holding dense memory.
They say the device could enable “faster, smaller and smarter computer chips for everything from consumer electronics to big data to brain-inspired computing”.
Deji Akinwande, associate professor at the University’s department of electrical and computer engineering, collaborated with Peking University on the project.
The entire memory cell is a sandwich about 1.5 nanometers thick
“For a long time, the consensus was that it wasn’t possible to make memory devices from materials that were only one atomic layer thick,” he said. “With our new ‘atomristors’, we have shown it is indeed possible”.
These so called “atomristors” are made from 2-D nanomaterials and improve on memristors, which have been used for memory devices in the past. However, they have lower memory scalability.
Akinwande said atomristors allow “for the advancement of Moore’s Law at the system level by enabling the 3-D integration of nanoscale memory with nanoscale transistors on the same chip for advanced computing systems”.
Up until now, storage microchips have relied on separate components, and that’s beefed-up the size of memory devices. Atomristors could change this because they combine different functionalities on a single system.
“By using metallic atomic sheets (graphene) as electrodes and semiconducting atomic sheets (molybdenum sulfide) as the active layer, the entire memory cell is a sandwich about 1.5 nanometers thick, which makes it possible to densely pack atomristors layer by layer in a plane,” explained the scientists.
We can potentially make computers that learn and remember the same way our brains do
“This is a substantial advantage over conventional flash memory, which occupies far larger space. In addition, the thinness allows for faster and more efficient electric current flow.”
Due to their size, capacity and flexibility, atomristors can be combined in order to create 3D chips, which could transform “brain-inspired computing”. There are challenges, though.
“The sheer density of memory storage that can be made possible by layering these synthetic atomic sheets onto each other, coupled with integrated transistor design, means we can potentially make computers that learn and remember the same way our brains do,” added Akinwande.
“Overall, we feel that this discovery has real commercialization value as it won’t disrupt existing technologies,” Akinwande said. “Rather, it has been designed to complement and integrate with the silicon chips already in use in modern tech devices.”
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