Information and Communications

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.

Information and Communications

Computers and processors use memory to store information and execute operations to perform desired functions. Each bit of memory holds a binary value, and 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 that are extremely small in size.

Engineering on the nanoscale has enabled many advances in computers by increasing the amount of storage, reducing power consumption, and increasing speed. These three factors have enabled the development of sophisticated computer-controlled devices that are helping shape our world.

Nano-RAM (or NRAM) is a random access memory that uses carbon nanotubes to encode the state of bits. This kind of memory is non-volatile meaning that it retains information regardless of whether or not power is actively 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  the behaviors of nanoscale structures. FRAM is similar to traditional integrated circuit memory except that it is fabricated using a ferroelectric polymer rather than a dielectric substrate. A material that exhibits ferroelectricity has an innate electric polarization in its structure. Because of the natural polarization in the ferroelectric material, replacing a traditional dielectric with ferroelectric material enables the FRAM memory to consume less power and occupy less space.

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 in hard disk drives. The Millipede memory uses many tiny nanoscale imprints in a polymer strip to record the stored information. To retrieve the 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 information retrieval very fast.

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