Miniaturizing memory: Taking data storage to the molecular level

November 11, 2008

Computers are getting smaller and smaller. And as hand-held devices -- from mobile phones and cameras to music players and laptops -- get more powerful, the race is on to develop memory formats that can satisfy the ever-growing demand for information storage on tiny formats.

Researchers at The University of Nottingham are now exploring ways of exploiting the unique properties of carbon nanotubes to create a cheap and compact memory cell that uses little power and writes information at high speeds.

Miniaturisation of computer devices involves continual improvement and shrinking of their basic element, the transistor. 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.

Current memory technologies fall into three separate groups: dynamic random access memory (DRAM), which is the cheapest method; static random access memory (SRAM), which is the fastest memory -- but both DRAM and SRAM require an external power supply to retain data; and flash memory, which is non-volatile -- it does not need a power supply to retain data, but has slower read-write cycles than DRAM.

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, responding to electrostatic, van der Waals and capillary forces. 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.

Researchers from across the scientific disciplines will be working on the 'nanodevices for data storage' project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Colleagues from the Schools of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, Pharmacy and the Nottingham Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre will examine the methods and materials required to develop this new technology, as well as exploring other potential applications for the telescoping properties of carbon nanotubes. These include drug delivery to individual cells and nanothermometers which could differentiate between healthy and cancerous cells.

Dr Elena Bichoutskaia in the School of Chemistry at the University is leading the study. "The electronics industry is searching for a replacement of silicon-based technologies for data storage and computer memory," she said. "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."
-end-


University of Nottingham

Related Carbon Nanotubes Articles from Brightsurf:

How plantains and carbon nanotubes can improve cars
Researchers from the University of Johannesburg have shown that plantain, a starchy type of banana, is a promising renewable source for an emerging type of lighter, rust-free composite materials for the automotive industry.

New production method for carbon nanotubes gets green light
A new method of producing carbon nanotubes -- tiny molecules with incredible physical properties used in touchscreen displays, 5G networks and flexible electronics -- has been given the green light by researchers, meaning work in this crucial field can continue.

Growing carbon nanotubes with the right twist
Researchers synthetize nanotubes with a specific structure expanding previous theories on carbon nanotube growth.

Research shows old newspapers can be used to grow carbon nanotubes
New research has found that old newspaper provide a cheap and green solution for the bulk production of single walled carbon nanotubes.

Clean carbon nanotubes with superb properties
Scientists at Aalto University, Finland, and Nagoya University, Japan, have found a new way to make ultra-clean carbon nanotube transistors with superior semiconducting properties.

Dietary fiber effectively purifies carbon nanotubes
A dietary fiber can help separate out semiconducting carbon nanotubes used for making transistors for flexible electronics.

Why modified carbon nanotubes can help the reproducibility problem
Scientists at Tokyo Institute of Technology (Tokyo Tech) conducted an in-depth study on how carbon nanotubes with oxygen-containing groups can be used to greatly enhance the performance of perovskite solar cells.

Tensile strength of carbon nanotubes depends on their chiral structures
Single-walled carbon nanotubes should theoretically be extremely strong, but it remains unclear why their experimental tensile strengths are lower and vary among nanotubes.

New study reveals carbon nanotubes measurement possible for the first time
Swansea University scientists report an entirely new approach to manipulation of carbon nanotubes that allows physical measurements to be made on carbon nanotubes that have previously only been possible by theoretical computation.

Neural networks will help manufacture carbon nanotubes
A team of scientists from Skoltech's Laboratory of Nanomaterials proposed a neural-network-based method for monitoring the growth of carbon nanotubes, preparing the ground for a new generation of sophisticated electronic devices.

Read More: Carbon Nanotubes News and Carbon Nanotubes Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.