T-rays could push computer memory into overdrive by factor of 1,000

13 Oct 2016

Ultra-fast computer memory. Image: Raimundas/Shutterstock

A multinational European team of computer scientists are attempting to smash current computer memory speeds by a factor of 1,000 using science fiction-sounding radiation called t-rays.

Computer science is now at a tipping point. It will soon reach the stage where we cannot surpass the physical limits of many of the technologies we use today, which had even threatened to make Moore’s Law obsolete.

Going by recent news, efforts to shatter these limits have been ramped up; with one research team confirming it had ‘broken’ the laws of physics to create a transistor gate of just one nanometre.

Future Human

Now, the latest breakthrough technology is being developed by a team of scientists from the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), which could significantly increase the speed of computer memory by a factor of 1,000.

In its paper published in Nature Photonics, the team has proposed the use of terahertz radiation – commonly known as t-rays – as an entirely new way of controlling magnetisation in computer memory cells.

While it might sound like something from science fiction, many people interact with t-rays on a daily basis. They are used in airport body scanners as they can expose weapons or explosives under a person’s clothing, without causing any harm to live tissues.

But one of the weak spots in modern computers is that every complete reset for a magnetic memory cell takes time, and trying to reduce this cycle has proven very challenging.

First time mechanism has been used

To achieve these faster speeds, the Russian-based research team proposed that electromagnetic pulses at terahertz frequencies could be used in memory switching instead of external magnetic fields.

In determining whether they could be used to store magnetic bits of information, the team performed an experiment with thulium orthoferrite (TmFeO3) that achieved the higher speeds, but required an external magnetic field to control the spins.

But with t-rays, the spins could be controlled without this external field and, incredibly, much faster, too.

Co-author of the research paper, Anatoly Zvezdin, said: “We have demonstrated an entirely new way of controlling magnetisation, which relies on short electromagnetic pulses at terahertz frequencies. This is an important step towards terahertz electronics.

“As far as we know, our study is the first to make use of this mechanism to trigger the oscillations of magnetic subsystems.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic