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The "Memristor" Will Revolutionize Electronics

By Vlad Tverdohleb , Jul 06, 2015 12:26 AM EDT
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The transistor era is soon to be gone. The 'memristor', its high-tech ultra-modern counterpart could soon revolutionise electronics. Memristor chips will soon be integrated in textiles, windows, even coffee cups and any imaginable items used in daily life.

With a faster speed, lower power consumption and a higher density of information per volume, memristors offer many advantages over the old transistors. This new technology could allow creating computers that operate in a way similar to the synapses in our brains.

In the year 1971 Leon Chua, a physicist, conceptualised the existence of a forth element in an electronic circuit. For reasons of symmetry, the physicist believed that this forth fundamental element could be built one day to join the inductor, the capacitor and the resistor. The name "memristor" comes from the words resistor and memory. Even if the first memristor has been conceptualized as early as 1971, only 37 years later, in the year 2008, engineers were able to build the first one.

Memristors do not require a silicon layer, unlike transistors and therefore they are not affected by the same limitations of current microchip manufacturing technology. Memristors use ions to store data, besides the flow of electrons.

The IBM corporation, in collaboration with researchers at ETH in Zurich, are developing together the first memristor computer. The project is expected to reach the stage of first prototype within two years. Today, many scientists, electronics and computer engineers expect that the menristor will forever change the world of electronics and revolutionize computing. It might lead to the transition from electrons to ions and mark the beginning of a new era in electronics called "ionics".

Until today, the transistor developed in 1947, has remained the main component of computer chips. A transistor works by using a flow of electrons. The new memristor electronic components will use a flow coupled with ions, which are electrically charged atoms. All information is lost in a transistor once the power is cut and the flow of electrons interrupted. On the other side, a memristor works much like a memory stick, since it can retain the data when the power is turned off and it can remember the amount of charge that was flowing through it.

The new memristors will pave the way for computers that will never lose data and will instantly turn on. The need to save anything to hard drives will disappear, since a RAM memory unit built with memristors will no longer be erased when the computer is turned off. Another fundamental difference between memristors and transistors is the fact that memristors can escape the limitations of binary code.

Super-fast memory chips built with memristors will allow to consume less energy and contain more data Regular computers will become much more powerful. The way computer chips will operate could change as well, since memristors function in a similar way to a human brain. They can have multi-levels, unlike a transistor that is based on binary code. A memristor could have several states and that gives very powerful alternatives on future computing technology. This new shift in computing will allow crating of intelligent machines that will be able to process information in a way similar to the synapses in the human brain.

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