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Memory tech puts 300M tunes in MP3 players

Posted: 21 Apr 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:molecular scale switch? flash memory?

Researchers at the University of Glasgow have devised a molecular scale switch that they claim could dramatically improve the data storage capability of devices without increasing their size.

Storage breakthrough
According to Lee Cronin and Malcolm Kadodwala of the University's chemistry department, their work could allow 500,000Gbyte of data to be housed on 1-inch? of substrate.

Current technology is said to accommodate 3.3Gbyte on the same area. And, because the switches can work on carbon, the development may be suited to plastic electronics, rather than silicon-based devices.

The researchers suggest their development could even see the number of transistors per chip rising from today's limit of 200 million to well over 1 billion.

And targeting a different audience, they note the memory technology breakthrough could see the storage capacity of an MP3 player increase some 150,000 fold.

Cronin said: "We have been able to assemble a functional nanocluster that incorporates two electron donating groups, and position them precisely 0.32nm apart so that they can form a totally new type of molecular switching device.

"This is unprecedented and provides a route to produce new a molecule-based switch that can be easily manipulated using an electric field. By taking these nano-scale clusters, just a nanometer in size, and placing them on to a gold or carbon, we can control the switching ability. Not only is this a new type of switchable molecule, but by grafting the molecule on to metal (gold) or carbon means that we can potentially bridge the gap between traditional semiconductor devices and components for nanoscale plastic electronics."

However, the scientists also cautioned they have yet to solve the problems associated with fabricating these switches. Nor have they developed a means to address the memory.

"Since these switches are little balls of metal oxide, they are made of similar stuff to normal semiconductors, but are much easier to manipulate as discrete molecular units," commented Professor Cronin.

The announcement, in the latest issue of Nature Nanotechnology comes just days after IBM touted a next-generation nonvolatile memory dubbed "racetrack" that is expected to initially replace flash memory and eventually hard-disk drives.

This, too, is seen as having the capability to cram 100x more songs into an MP3 player.

IBM's prototype is based on the group's patents on spintronicsthe storage of bits generated by the magnetic spin of electrons rather than their charge.

The proof-of-concept shift register recently demonstrated by IBM encodes bits into the magnetic domain walls along the length of a silicon nanowire, or racetrack. IBM uses "massless motion" to move the magnetic domain walls along the nanowire for the storage and retrieval of information.

- John Walko
EE Times Europe

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