Researchers at Oregon State University claim to have made a breakthrough in memristor development, creating the first memristors from cheap and readily-available zinc tin oxide.
Dubbed the fifth circuit element
, memristors - a portmanteau of 'memory' and 'resistor' - was original theorised back in 1971 in a paper proposing a mathematical model for an electronic component which combines features of resistors, capacitors and inductors. Sadly, the technology of the time prevented the paper's author, Professor Leon Chua of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Sciences Department at the University of California at Berkeley, from creating a prototype to prove his theory.
Fast forward a few years, and Hewlett Packard's research and development labs successfully create the first nanoscale memristor devices, teaming up with memory specialist Hynix to commercialise memristor technology in the form of resistive RAM, or ReRAM
The problem with HP's memristor devices is that they require titanium dioxide - an expensive material. The version created at Oregon State, by contrast, use the far cheaper and more readily available zinc tin oxide - a material which is also, incidentally, transparent.
'Flash memory has taken us a long way with its very small size and low price,
' explained John Conley, a professor in the OSU School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, of his team's work, 'but it's nearing the end of its potential, and memristors are a leading candidate to continue performance improvements.
As Conley's comments suggest memristors are believed to be the next big thing in solid-state storage products, combing the benefits of non-volatile flash storage with performance approaching that of volatile dynamic RAM. Their low power draw and high performance make them tempting for mobile devices, but the technology could also spell a sea change in the way computers operate by allowing the same device to be used as dynamic RAM and long-term storage without sacrificing performance.
Conley's research, while concentrating on memristor technology, has also suggested that zinc tin oxide could prove a usable alternative to the far more expensive indium gallium zinc oxide compound used in the construction of thin-film transistors for displays.
The research, which was supported by funding from the US Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation and the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute, is published in the journal Solid-State Electronics