Sunday, October 3, 2010

High Capacity 3D Memory Chips Technology

Computer memory technology hasn't changed much in the last few years. This situation might not last long, though, because a graduate student at Rice University, Jun Yao (top), may just be on the right track on discovering the workings and intricacies of what could be the new computer memory of the 21st century. Yao had been using graphite in his project and what he discovered caused quite a stir. He found out that by the simple application of voltage, nanocrystalline pathways could be created in silicon oxide, an insulator in the graphite. Low voltage pulses (3.5 and 8 volts) could open and close the pathways, conveniently allowing for a switching effect. The phenomenon essentially made a two-terminal resistive memory bit (5 nanometers wide) possible.

Yao's discovery may soon become the basis for high-capacity 3D memory chips. But Yao isn't alone in the endeavor or competition to release the first of such a chip. Yao's argument is that the silicon dioxide in graphite that what will make 3D memory chips possible. Initially, there was critical resistance to his ideas, but he sold the concept nevertheless. It all began when he was assisting chemist James Tour in ones of the Rice labs with a graphitic memory project when he thought of removing the graphite and was surprised to discover that the circuit still worked.

Yao recounted how he became surprised and excited about the discovery. He emailed his superior and the following day, "the prolonged debates over the mechanism between me and the graphitic guys began," he said. With most of his colleagues unconvinced, Yao spent months experimenting. He combined silicon oxide with every material he could find, trying to determine if there was some other factor that he missed, but "they all worked," he said, "because the silicon oxide was carrying the load." What was happening in the silicon oxide was that a strong electrical pulse between semiconducting silicon strips off oxygen atoms, producing the nanoscale bit between the terminals that following pulses could switch on and off. Yao is currently working on making his silicon oxide memory more visually understandable.

Yao already has the reputation of drawing the logo of Rice University (above, left) by hand into electron-beam controller software to create a microscopic masterpiece from forests of carbon nanotubes!

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