University of Nottingham takes fast memory to molecular level

Carbon nanotubes may well provide the next generation of ultra-compact, ultra-fast and ultra-low power memory cells in the race for miniaturisation.

Researchers at the university of Nottingham make the point that existing DRAM (dynamic random access memory) and SRAM (static random access memory) require an external power supply, while flash memory is hobbled by slower read-write cycles.

But carbon nanotubes – made from rolled graphite sheets just one carbon atom thick – could provide the best of both worlds, says Dr Elena Bichoutskaia of the School of Chemistry, who is leading the study.

She explains that if one nanotube sits inside another (slightly larger) one, the inner tube floats within the outer, responding to electrostatic, van der Waals and capillary forces.

Passing power through the nanotubes allows the inner tube to be pushed in and out, connecting or disconnecting the inner tube to an electrode, creating the ‘zero’ or ‘one’. What’s more, the action is faster than DRAM, yet is also non-volatile, like Flash memory.

“The electronics industry is searching for a replacement of silicon-based technologies for data storage and computer memory,” says Bichoutskaia. “Existing technologies, such as magnetic hard discs, cannot be used reliably at the sub-micrometre scale and will soon reach their fundamental physical limitations.

“In this project, a new device for storing information will be developed, made entirely of carbon nanotubes and combining the speed and price of dynamic memory with the non-volatility of flash memory.”

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is funding the research, which involves scientists from the Schools of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, Pharmacy and the Nottingham Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre.

Brian Tinham

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