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Computers and processors use memory to store information and execute operations to perform desired functions. Each bit of memory holds a binary value, and multiple sets of bits combine to be interpreted as a particular instruction or piece of information.  Digital devices are becoming progressively more sophisticated and smaller, requiring more compact components. Different types of memory devices introduced by nanotechnology are enabling the development of complex devices at an extremely small size.

Nanotechnology has enabled many advances in computer memory, increasing storage size, reducing power consumption, and increasing speed. These three factors will enable sophisticated computer controlled devices in the future.

Nano-RAM (or NRAM) is a random access memory that uses carbon nanotubes to determine the state of the memory element, comprising an information bit. This memory is a non-volatile device meaning that its cells maintain their information regardless of whether or not power is supplied to the system (the carbon nanotubes keep their mechanical position whether or not power is supplied). NRAM (which is a proprietary computer memory technology) has been projected to be of very high density and low cost.

Ferroelectric-RAM or FRAM is a another type of non-volatile memory that takes advantage of  nanotechnological properties. FRAM is similar to traditional integrated circuit memory, except that the device is fabricated using a layer of ferroelectric polymer rather than a dielectric substrate. A material that exhibits ferroelectricity consists of molecules that have an innate electric polarization. Because of the natural polarization in the ferroelectric material, replacing traditional dielectric with ferroelectric material enable the FRAM memory cells to consume less power and therefore can be designed to smaller sizes.

IBM scientists are using DNA origami to build tiny circuit boards; in this image, low concentrations of triangular DNA origami are binding to wide lines on a lithographically patterned surface.
Credit: IBM

A third type of memory that has been enhanced using nanotechnology is known as Millipede memory. It was designed to replace magnetic memories such as those commonly used as hard drives. The Millipede memory uses many tiny imprints in a polymer strip to record the stored information. To retrieve the memory information, the Millipede memory uses atomic force sensors that detect the nano-indentations recorded in the film.  The resulting storage capacities are typically up to four times greater than those available with traditional magnetic memories. The Millipede memory is also non-volatile, and it is rewritable. In addition to its very high capacity storage, it has been designed to read and write in a parallel process, making its access times low.