Molecule sized data storage for computers in offing

November 12th, 2008 - 2:06 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Nov 12 (IANS) Computers are getting smaller as the race is on to develop memory formats that store huge information in progressively tinier substances. Now Researchers are exploring ways of exploiting properties of carbon nanotubes to create a cheap, compact memory cell that uses little power and writes information at high speeds.Elena Bichoutskaia of the School of Chemistry, Nottingham University, who is leading the study, said: “The electronics industry is searching for a replacement of silicon-based technologies for data storage and computer memory.

“Existing technologies, such as magnetic hard discs, cannot be used reliably at the sub-micrometre scale and will soon reach their fundamental physical limitations.”

Carbon nanotubes - tubes made from rolled graphite sheets just one carbon atom thick - could provide the answer. If one nanotube sits inside another - slightly larger - one, the inner tube will ‘float’ within the outer.

Passing power through the nanotubes allows the inner tube to be pushed in and out of the outer tube. This telescoping action can either connect or disconnect the inner tube to an electrode, creating the ‘zero’ or ‘one’ states required to store information using binary code.

When the power source is switched off, van der Waals force - which governs attraction between molecules - keeps the inner tube in contact with the electrode. This makes the memory storage non-volatile, like Flash memory.

Miniaturisation of current computer devices involves continual improvement and shrinking of their basic element, the transistor. But this process could soon reach its fundamental limit.

As transistors approach nanoscales their operation is disrupted by quantum phenomena, such as electrons tunnelling through the barriers between wires.

Researchers are working on the ‘nanodevices for data storage’ project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, UK, according to a Nottingham university statement.

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