British nanotechnologists have emulated the functions usually associated with transistor-based digital electronics in all-metallic nanoscale devices made from ferromagnetic materials. This technology could lead to three-dimensional microchips with tremendous memory capacities. These devices, which can be described as "MRAM that can think," mimic the functions of the brain. The design is using "a complex interconnected network of nanowires, with computing functions and decisions performed at the nodes where they meet a similar approach to neurons and axons in the brain." When these chips become available, probably in a few years, they will offer 100 GB of storage capacity for the cost of a memory card.
Here is the introduction of this Imperial College London news release.
Mobile phones could one day have the memory capacity of a desktop computer thanks to a microchip that mimics the functioning of the brain.
Researchers from Imperial College London, Durham University and the University of Sheffield say their new computer chip design will enable large amounts of data to be stored in small volumes by using a complex interconnected network of nanowires, with computing functions and decisions performed at the nodes where they meet a similar approach to neurons and axons in the brain.
This technology is based on research done by Russell Cowburn, professor of nanotechnology in Imperial's Department of Physics.
By using nanotechnology it is possible to reproduce the key functions of semiconductor electronics in microchips using only the 'spin' of electrons, which is responsible for magnetism, rather than the more conventional 'charge' that traditional microchips use.
As an example of these nanomagnetic logic gates used for these microchips, below is a micrograph showing "eleven nanomagnetic logic_gates connected in series to form a working digital serial shift register" (Credit: Imperial College London).
For more information, you should visit this page about nanomagnetic logic devices. Here is a short explanation about what the researchers are doing.
In nanomagnetic logic, the Boolean states 1 and 0 are represented by magnetisation within ferromagnetic nanostructures aligned to the right and left, in the same fashion as Magnetic Random Access Memory (MRAM). Unlike MRAM, however, magnetic signals can be transported from one part of a device to another by the passage of domain walls through magnetic nanowires and logical operations can be performed on the signals.
These devices could be described as "MRAM that can think"; in other words devices that not only use spin direction to store digital information but which can also manipulate and process it.
[Note: The above micrograph come from this page.]
This research has been published in Science under the name "Magnetic Domain-Wall Logic" (Volume 309, Number 5741, Pages 1688-1692, September 9, 2005). Here is a link to the abstract.
When will we see this technology at work in our phones? Right now, the researchers are working with commercial partners to develop it, so it will probably take several years .
Sources: Imperial College London news release, September 8, 2005; and various web sites
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