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Using memristors to build an electronic brain

Posted: 05 May 2016 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:e-brain? biological synapses? memristor? nanoelectronics?

The MIT of Russia, The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT) is developing an electronic brain through the use of analogue components derived from the model and operative functions found in a biological brain, rather than IBM's recently announced digitally emulated component developed for its "cognitive computers."

The key component to Russia's electronic brain (E-Brain) will be the memristor, invented by professor Leon Chua at the University of California at Berkeley, (although some trace its conception back to neural network pioneer and professor emeritus at Stanford University, Bernard Widrow). Either way, the memristor does just what its name impliesit remembers how-much and the direction the current has flown through it by changing its resistance. MIPT has shrunk their memristors down to just 40-by-40nm.

In the brain, this vital function is performed by the chemical "synapse" that grows when it is usedthus decreasing its resistance but also increasing its conductance because the synapse is growing. If not used at all, the synapse will atrophy until its conductance is zero. This function is used at night during sleep to reinforce important events during the day. During the day, people can cause specific synapses to grow by studying for a test (cognitive memory), practicing their sport (muscle memory) or memorising words, phrases, or lists (eidetic memory).

analogue electronic brain

Figure 1: The MIT of Russia, MIPT (Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology) is perfecting an analogue electronic brain using hafnium-oxide synapses (bright gaps in photo). (Source: MIPT)

Hewlett Packard had high hopes for creating E-Brains using memristors as far back as 2011 but retreated by transferring their attention to making binary memories out of memristors with Hynix, only to be beat to the punch by start-up Knowm.

 biological signals

Figure 2: The electrical "spike" signal communicated by brain neurons to one another (black line) and the various other biological signals simultaneously transmitted (red). (Source: MIPT)

Now Russian state-supported equivalent of MITMIPTis picking up the baton to make full-blown E-Brains based on the analogue principles that make the real brain so much smarter and energy efficient than conventional computers. MIPT's reinvention of the memristor using hafnium oxide (HfO2), which is already a common material in CMOS fabs, was its key innovation. Now MIPT is putting their pieces togetherqualifying them one-by-oneto ultimately create an analogue E-Brain which it hopes will outperform IBM's digital "cognitive computers."

"By applying voltage to the memristor comprising a thin metal oxide (particularly, HfO2) layer, we drive oxygen ions from the lattice and further to one of the electrodes, leaving (charged) oxygen vacancies as traps, which provides the path for the transport of electrons," Yury Matveyev, the senior researcher at MIPT's Laboratory of Functional Materials and Devices for Nanoelectronics, told EE Times. "Thus, the resistance of the memristor is defined by the concentration of oxygen vacancies in a filamentary channel, andwhat is most importantit changes over time during the biasing of the memristor."


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