Researchers target new form of RAM from rare materials

Researchers target new form of RAM from rare materials

Summary: Non-volatile RAM that retains data when a device is switched off could deliver faster computers, lower energy consumption and cloud data storage.


Researchers from Victoria University, in New Zealand, are studying the application of a class of materials called rare earth nitrides (RENs) to create a new type of non-volatile RAM memory.

Dr Ben Ruck, Professor Joe Trodahl and Dr Franck Natali from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences, are studying potential commercial applications of RENs, thin films grown under ultra-high vacuum which are both magnetic and semiconducting.

Two concepts already patented include developing the first magnetic memory storage devices based on RENs, called "magnetic tunnel junctions".

The issue with current forms of RAM is that it does not retain information when the host computer is turned off, says Ruck.

“What we’re working on is a magnetic type of RAM that doesn’t disappear. Because data is retained when the power is switched off, a device can perform faster, be more versatile and use less energy. This is ideal, as an example, for cloud data storage spanning across multiple servers,” he says.

The new materials may be useful in developing this magnetic RAM, or MRAM, that uses electron spin, not charge, to store data.

The team has worked with europium nitride, for instance, which is not usually magnetic, but has been "tricked" into behaving like a magnet by being produced with slightly too few nitrogen atoms.

The Victoria team is collaborating with a researchers at the Centre for Research on Hetero-Epitaxy and Applications, in France, which has facilities to grow pure versions of RENs.

Ruck and his colleagues are also in the process of testing a new way to control how RENs use electricity. 

“No one has made a magnetic semi-conductor where you can truly control the electrical conductivity,"Ruck says. "Our results provide a new way to control conduction precisely, meaning you can swap a device from being magnetic to non-magnetic, surpassing existing electronics regarding speed and power consumption.”

This would be a significant breakthrough for developing and constructing spintronics devices, an emerging technology where the spin of an electron is controlled to manipulate its charge.

Topics: Storage, Cloud, Hardware, New Zealand

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  • Bad news for Windows based IT Techs.

    You wont be able to just turn it off and back on again to fix the issues.

    IT departments across the globe will have to do ACTUAL work to resolve issues!
    • Well there would have to be a reset button then..

      A reset button or feature that clears out the RAM. Though if they are going to use rare materials, it won't sell well (due to the high cost), i myself wouldn't use it, but my guess is this will be focused on either businesses or for the military. It's a nice idea though.
  • Rare, hmm what does that mean?

    Developing anything that requires Rare earth materials is likely to be a dead end, simply because of the sensitivity and political nature of mineral supply. To say that it will be the panacea for cloud storage is to forget the shear scale of the material requirement; it would put the rare earth consumption for smartphone production seem like the proverbial drop in the ocean. While interesting science it fails to actually solve a problem and diverts energies away from more sustainable avenues that do not need rare earth minerals deposited in an ultra high vacuum (which also brings with it a high energy debt).
  • I hope it works better ...

    than plated wire memory of the 1970s, which was to be the replacement for magnetic cores. Aside from the fabrication bottleneck, ferrite cores had to be erased to be read, so computers had a read-rewrite cycle to access memory (read-substitute-rewrite for write cycles) constantly going on. Unexpected loss of power could cause incomplete rewrites and corrupt the data (and the instruction being executed, causing incorrect behavior) during the millisecond or so it took for the power supply to drop too low to operate at all, so it was treated as "effectively volatile" just as semiconductor RAM is now. The plated-wire was supposed to be read by twisting the magnetism 45 degrees in direction, after which it would snap back to its original orientation, generating a positive or negative pulse; twisting it to one of the 180 degree separations would change the bit.

    I don't remember how many mainframes were built with plated wire, but basically the semiconductor RAM overtook plated wire and ferrite cores both, since it could be fabricated like any other chip. Plated wire was basically obsolete before it was practical.

    And yes, I am worried about the "rare earth" part, unless it uses VERY small amounts of iridium; thanks to the K-T event, that is found EVERYWHERE. And if we succeed in lassoing a small asteroid into Earth orbit, the problem is solved. Which may happen before this new technology is ready for the assembly line.
    • Award for most irrelevant comment goes to….

  • I guess you just perused the posting

    because there are places that GROW the RENs.. meaning they are naturally rare but it would seem can be created as needed.. the question now would be how long does it take to create sufficient quantities with sufficient purity, and how much does that cost them? May not be the deal breaker you think. There are already a lot of "gems" and other things that are grown as needed.