Nanotechnology breakthrough could change future of electronics design

25 Jan 2018

Image: science photo/Shutterstock

A new breakthrough in nanotechnology standard could see computers have eternal memories.

The limits of existing electronics have been well documented in the past. Example include Moore’s Law, where silicon transistors were defined as having a set limit and, thus, a maximum processing potential.

But, as the past few years have shown, new advances in nanotechnology have helped to push out that limit further and further with the promise of speeds unlike anything we can imagine today.

Now, a team of scientists from the University of Southampton has achieved one such breakthrough that could open the door to a new generation of electronics.

In a paper published to Scientific Reports, the research team revealed that it achieved blistering speeds using a newly developed memristor – a simpler and smaller alternative to the transistor, with the capability of altering its resistance and storing multiple memory states.

Memristors are seen as the next evolutionary step of transistors as they are smaller, simpler, require less energy and can retain data by ‘remembering’ the amount of charge that has passed through them.

This effectively creates a computer than can switch on instantly and remember every action ever performed on it.

The Southampton team has now smashed the record for memristor capacity with storage of up to 128 discernible memory states per switch. This makes it four times more powerful than any other previously reported memristor.

It was achieved by evaluating several configurations of functional oxide materials, the core component that gives it the ability to alter its resistance.

Place within an IoT future

“This is a really exciting discovery, with potentially enormous implications for modern electronics,” said Prof Themis Prodromakis, a member of the research team.

“By 2020, there are expected to be more than 200bn interconnected devices within the internet of things [IoT] framework. These will generate an incredible amount of data that will need processing.”

He added: “Memristors are a key enabling technology for next-generation chips, which need to be highly reconfigurable, yet affordable, scalable and energy-efficient.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic