Scientists create the world's smallest potential computer memory

Scientists create the world's smallest potential computer memory.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

University of Utah physicist Christoph Boehme created a new kind of computer memory and demonstrated that it can even be stored in a new way. The results were published in the journal Science.

Enter the world's tiniest computer memory.

Although the science of it might make your head spin, the physicists have demonstrated something no one has shown before. The researchers combined nuclear storage of data and proved they could electronically read it.

The device was made out of a phosphorus-doped silicon chip.

"We read the spin of the nuclei in the reverse of the way we write information," Boehme said in a statement. "We have a mechanism that turns electron spin into a current."

Basically, the physicists recorded the data after storing it in magnetic spins of the nuclei of atoms.

Record breaking

The data was stored in the atomic nuclei for 112 seconds. That's almost two minutes.

Now, compare this to your laptop, which stores information for thousandths of a second. To keep the memory, the data has to be refreshed constantly. Normally, the data is stored in the spin of electrons.

In this study, the scientists decided to show that it is possible to store data in the nucleus of an atom. It's calmer in the center - where temperature changes and other electrons are less likely to influence the memory.

"Nuclei experience nearly perfect solitude. That's why nuclei are a good place to store information magnetically. Nuclear spins where we store information have extremely long storage times before the information decays," said Dane McCamey, who is now at the University of Sydney.

To create the desired spin, the team used a mechanism called near-terahertz electromagnetic waves to get the electrons into a certain spin. Then radio waves helped write the spin into the nuclei.

While you could build a memory chip like this now, it would be unreasonable to actually have a computer run at 454 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. It also needs to be surrounded by powerful magnetic fields, which you obviously wouldn't have one at home just to make your computer run faster.

This discovery could help build faster computers and faster quantum computers.

Quantum computers are still more fantasy than reality. Unlike traditional computers that store information in two states - ones and zeros - quantum computers store information at the atomic level, under the rules of quantum mechanics.

A fully functional quantum computer could change the way we communicate, by increasing the performance of the computer. One favorable aspect of quantum information is security. The data can't be replicated, promising more secure bank transactions and even improve drug design.

Photo: Tom Bear Photography

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