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Nanoscale Data Storage Works Like Human Brain

Researchers at the RMIT University have created a data storage nano structure that mimics human memory. The research will potentially enable others to develop nanoscale memory devices, which are very stable and reliable.

Memory comes in two types: volatile and non-volatile. The latter is able to access memory stored on the device even when it isn’t powered – which is how SSD drives and USB sticks that you might be familiar with work. This functions well, but the technology is drawing near its scaling limits; simply put, it’s not possible to keep making smaller devices while increasing the storage capacity.

The project was led by Dr. Sharath Sriram, the co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group. He and his team will have their work honoured by featuring on the front of the science journal Advanced Functional Materials.

A film of oxide material, named thin film, that is more than 10000 times thinner than human hair was used to create the nanometre-thick stacked structure.

“The thin film is specifically designed to have defects in its chemistry to demonstrate a 'memristive' effect — where the memory element's behaviour is dependent on its past experiences,” said Sriram in a press release.

The new technology uses something called memristors. This is a circuit element that is expected to be more powerful than existing storage technologies like SSD, DRAM and Flash. They also have the potential to be created into non-volatile solid state memory, which then form the foundations for systems that mirror the actions of the human brain.

“With flash memory rapidly approaching fundamental scaling limits, we need novel materials and architectures for creating the next generation of non-volatile memory,” said Sriram.

It has been suggested by some industry experts that the physical size limit for NAND flash is around 10 nanometers. Toshiba were the company that first introduced flash storage to the mass market and they have been developing 15-nanometer process technology.

Sriram experts that the structure that has been developed could be used for a range of applications, like ultrafast memory devices that can be shrunk to a few nanometers or computer logic architectures that replicate the versatility and response time of a biological neural network.

“While more investigation needs to be done, our work advances the search for next generation memory technology can replicate the complex functions of human neural system - bringing us one step closer to the bionic brain,” he said.

As global data storage needs grow, it’s becoming hard for current storage technologies to keep up with the data boom. Many researchers are now attempting to come up with innovative and cost effective ways to begin storing huge amounts of data that didn’t exist half a decade ago. This research by RMIT University is another step towards this innovation and it’s hugely exciting to see where it could lead.

Hussein Nili, a PhD researcher at RMIT and the lead author of the research paper, claims that the findings and the thin film used is significant as the stable memory effect arises from pathways in the oxide that are extremely small. These can then be tuned and controlled through pressure, which offers application for these memory elements as sensors and actuators.

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