Mobile phones could one day have the memory capacity of a desktopcomputer thanks to a microchip that mimics the functioning of thebrain, scientists report today (9 September) in the journal Science.
Researchers from Imperial College London, Durham University and theUniversity of Sheffield say their new computer chip design will enablelarge amounts of data to be stored in small volumes by using a complexinterconnected network of nanowires, with computing functions anddecisions performed at the nodes where they meet -- a similar approachto neurons and axons in the brain.
Currently the memory chips of mobile phones have a very limitedcapacity, making it impossible to store the videos that the newgeneration of phones can record. Electronics firms have been looking atminiature hard drive disks as a possible solution but so far the highexpense of this option has rendered it unattractive.
This latest research, however, has the potential to develop achip that combines the storage capability of a hard drive with the lowcost of memory cards, potentially increasing memory capacity by 200times from an average of 500MB to around 100GB.
Lead researcher Russell Cowburn, Professor of Nanotechnologyin Imperial's Department of Physics, explains: "The new video mobilephones are very popular, but they desperately need more memory so thatpeople can take longer videos and store them. This technology has thepotential to transform mobiles into fully functioning video cameras, inaddition to a range of other applications."
The technology is based on the discovery by Professor Cowburnand colleagues that by using nanotechnology it is possible to reproducethe key functions of semiconductor electronics in microchips using onlythe 'spin' of electrons, which is responsible for magnetism, ratherthan the more conventional 'charge' that traditional microchips use.
This has allowed them to construct a completely newarchitecture for electronics in three dimensions rather than the twodimensional flat structure of conventional microchips, an approachProfessor Cowburn compares to using cupboards instead of table tops forstoring goods. He says:
"Traditionally we have used electronics for microchips andmagnetism for hard disk drives. This discovery allows us to combinethese two approaches to make a new generation of 3D microchips that canstore so much more information than a flat two dimensional surface. "
The team is now working with commercial partners to develop thetechnology and is currently building a more advanced demonstrator chipusing full microchip manufacturing facilities.
Notes to Editors:
Magnetic Domain-Wall Logic, Science, Volume 310, 9 September 2005
D A Allwood1, G Xiong2, C C Faulkner3, D Atkinson2, D Petit3, R P Cowburn3, 4
1 Department of Engineering Materials, University of Sheffield
2 Department of Physics, University of Durham
3 Department of Physics, Imperial College London
4 Durham Magnetic Optics Ltd, University of Durham
About Imperial College London
Consistently rated in the top three UK university institutions,Imperial College London is a world leading science-based universitywhose reputation for excellence in teaching and research attractsstudents(11,000) and staff (6,000) of the highest international quality.
Innovative research at the College explores the interfacebetween science, medicine, engineering and management and deliverspractical solutions that enhance the quality of life and theenvironment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
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