‘Computer synapse’ analyzed at the nanoscale

Researchers at Hewlett Packard and the University of California, Santa Barbara, have analysed in unprecedented detail the physical and chemical properties of an electronic device that computer engineers hope will transform computing.

Memristors, short for memory resistors, are a newly understood circuit element for the development of electronics and have inspired experts to seek ways of mimicking the behaviour of our own brains’ activity inside a computer.

Research, published today, Monday, 16 May, in IOP Publishing’s Nanotechnology, explains how the researchers have used highly focused x-rays to map out the nanoscale physical and chemical properties of these electronic devices. It is thought memristors, with the ability to ‘remember’ the total electronic charge that passes through them, will be of greatest benefit when they can act like synapses within electronic circuits, mimicking the complex network of neurons present in the brain, enabling our own ability to perceive, think and remember.

Mimicking biological synapses – the junctions between two neurons where information is transmitted in our brains – could lead to a wide range of novel applications, including semi-autonomous robots, if complex networks of neurons can be reproduced in an artificial system. In order for the huge potential of memristors to be utilised, researchers first need to understand the physical processes that occur within the memristors at a very small scale. Memristors have a very simple structure – often just a thin film made of titanium dioxide between two metal electrodes – and have been extensively studied in terms of their electrical properties.

For the first time, researchers have been able to non-destructively study the physical properties of memristors allowing for a more detailed insight into the chemistry and structure changes that occur when the device is operating.

Read more here ‘Computer synapse’ analyzed at the nanoscale.

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