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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Researchers Create Cell-Sized Memory Device

Researchers say they have created a memory device the size of a white blood cell in an advance of nanotechnology that should help manufacturer's keep up the pace of Moore's Law.

The tiny ultra-dense memory device has enough capacity to store the Declaration of Independence and still have room to spare, they say. It is called a major advance over current silicon computing technology.

"Using molecular components for memory or computation or to replace other electronic components holds tremendous promise," says J. Fraser Stoddart, director of the California NanoSystems Institute.

The cell-sized device was created by arranging 160,000 memory bits like a large tic-tac-toe board: 400 silicon wires crossed by 400 titanium wires, each 16 nanometers wide, with a layer of dumbbell-shaped molecular switches sandwiched between the crossing wires. A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter and is a common measurement in nanotechnology, which is engineering at the atomic scale.

"This research is one of the only examples of building large molecular memory in a chip at an extremely high density, testing it, and working in an architecture that is practical, where it is obvious how information can be written and read," Stoddart says.

Moore's law has long been a basic tenet of computing technology that says the complexity of an integrated circuit, or computer chip, will double every year based on increased miniaturization. Manufacturers, however, see no way to extend the miniaturization beyond the year 2013. Nanotechnology, such as the cell-sized memory device, respresents one potential solution.

"Our goal was not to demonstrate a robust technology; the memory circuit we have reported on is hardly that," says James Heath of the California Institute of Technology and a collaborator on the project. "Instead, our goal was to demonstrate that large-scale, working electronic circuits could be constructed at a density that is well-beyond (10-15 years) where many of the most optimistic projections say is possible."

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