Researchers say they’ve created the world’s densest memory circuit, about 100 times denser than today’s standard memory unit and as small as a human white blood cell.
Although mass production could still be a decade away and the chip contains only a modest capacity of 160,000 bits of information, the achievement points to the possible exponential growth of computing power.
Speeding Up the Future
The memory circuit is a “milestone in manufacturing,” said the team led by chemistry professor James Heath of the California Institute of Technology and J. Fraser Stoddart, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, in announcing their achievement in the journal Nature.
“It’s the sort of device that Intel would contemplate making in the year 2020,” said Heath, who is the Gilloon Professor at Caltech. “But at the moment it furthers our goal of learning how to manufacture functional electronic circuitry at molecular dimensions.”
To lend some perspective, the scientists said their circuit has enough capacity to store the Declaration of Independence and have space left over.
Integrated Circuits Shrinking
Because the work demonstrates the potential for making integrated circuits at increasingly smaller sizes, it might spur companies to create new manufacturing technologies to squeeze more information onto ever-smaller devices.
“This shows it is possible to manufacture really high-fidelity circuits at a density that is more molecular in scale than the way things have been done traditionally,” Martin Reynolds, vice president and research fellow at Gartner, told TechNewsWorld. “That’s what we were really after. The memory is just a demonstration of that.”
Hewlett-Packard (HP) researchers demonstrated a similar technology in 2002, Reynolds noted, but at 64 bits — and, in fact, Professor Heath is named in one of their patents. He is also continuing to work with their laboratories, according to Reynolds.
“From a business perspective, this should have a positive impact for HP,” he said.
The 160,000 bits of memory capacity is roughly equivalent to that of molecular circuits demonstrated at 64 bits, the HP results showed. However, the circuit’s density is the real breakthrough, according to Reynolds.
At 100 billion bits per square centimeter, it is approximately 100 times more tightly packed than current memory circuits.
“What you are seeing another step in the future of Moore’s Law,” Reynolds said, referring to the theory that the number of transistors on integrated circuits will double every 18 months. “It’s another way to go smaller, faster and cheaper.”
Easy as Tic-Tac-Toe
To create the circuit, the researchers arranged 160,000 memory bits in a tic-tac-toe arrangement, with 400 silicon wires crossed by 400 titanium wires and a layer of molecular switches sandwiched between the crossing wires.
The circuit has a density of 100 gigabits per square centimeter, which sets the record for integration density in a man-made object, according to the study.