A team of chemists has demonstrated a large-scale "ultra-dense" memory device that stores data using reconfigurable molecular switches.
The UCLA and California Institute of Technology researchers said that the technique represents an important step towards the replacement of silicon-based PCs with faster and more powerful molecular computers.
The 160Kb memory device uses interlocked molecules manufactured in the UCLA laboratory of J. Fraser Stoddart, director of the California NanoSystems Institute, who holds UCLA's Fred Kavli Chair in Nanosystems Sciences.
The research details how memory is based on a series of perpendicular crossing nanowires, similar to a noughts-and-crosses board, with 400 bottom wires and another 400 crossing top wires.
Sitting at each crossing of the structure, and serving as the storage element, are approximately 300 rotaxane molecules.
These molecules may be switched between two different states, and each junction of a crossbar can be addressed individually by controlling the voltages applied to the appropriate top and bottom crossing wires, forming a bit at each crossing.
The molecular memory was fabricated at a density of 100,000,000,000 bits per square centimetre, which Stoddart said is "a density predicted for commercial memory devices in approximately 2020".
"For this commercial dream to be realised, many fundamental challenges of nano-fabrication must be solved first," he said.
"The use of bistable molecules as the unit of information storage promises scalability to this density and beyond.
"However, there remain many questions as to how these memory devices will work over a prolonged period of time. This research is an initial step toward answering some of those questions."
Using molecular components for memory or computation, or to replace other electronic components, holds tremendous promise, according to Stoddart.
"We have shown that, if a wire is broken or misaligned, the unaffected bits still function effectively," he said.
"So this architecture is a great example of 'defect tolerance', which is a fundamental issue in nanoscience and in solving the problems of the semiconductor industry.
"This research is the culmination of a long-standing dream that these bistable rotaxane molecules could be used for information storage."
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