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Rice University makes advancements in transparent memory

Posted: 04 Oct 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:silicon oxide? graphene? 22 nm circuits? flexible chips? heads-up displays?

Researchers at the Rice University have designed a transparent, two-terminal, three-dimensional computer memory. The memory chip is being developed on flexible chips and has potential for electronics and sophisticated heads-up displays.

The technique based on the switching properties of silicon oxide, a breakthrough discovery by Rice in 2008, was recently reported in the online journal Nature Communications.

Led by chemist James Tour and physicist Douglas Natelson, the team made highly transparent, nonvolatile resistive memory devices based on the revelation that silicon oxide can be used as a switch. A voltage runs across a thin sheet of silicon oxide which strips oxygen atoms away from a channel that's 5nm wide, turning it into conductive metallic silicon. With lower voltages, the channel can then be broken and repaired repeatedly.

That channel can be read as a "1" or a "0," which is a switch, the basic unit of computer memories. At 5 nm, it shows promise to extend Moore's Law, which predicted computer circuitry will double in power every two years. Current state-of-the-art electronics are made with 22 nm circuits.

The research by Tour, Jun Yao, a former graduate student at Rice, Jian Lin, a Rice postdoctoral researcher, and their colleagues details memories that are 95 per cent transparent, made of silicon oxide and crossbar graphene terminals on flexible plastic.

The Rice lab is making its devices with a working yield of about 80 per cent, "which is pretty good for a non-industrial lab," Tour said. "When you get these ideas into industries' hands, they really sharpen it up from there."

Manufacturers who have been able to fit millions of bits on small devices like flash memories now find themselves bumping against the physical limits of their current architectures, which require three terminals for each bit.

But the Rice unit, requiring only two terminals, makes it far less complicated. It means arrays of two-terminal memories can be stacked in three-dimensional configurations, vastly increasing the amount of information a memory chip might hold. Tour said his lab has also seen promise for making multi-state memories that would further increase their capacity.

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