Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania have developed nanowires that can read and write data 1,000 faster than NAND flash memory. Furthermore, the new memory is also very reliable, the scientists claim the memory can store data for 100,000 years.
Ritesh Agarwal, an assistant professor in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and colleagues developed a self-assembling nanowire of germanium antimony telluride, a phase-changing material that switches between amorphous and crystalline structures, the key to read/write computer memory. Fabrication of the nanoscale devices, roughly 100 atoms in diameter, was performed without conventional lithography, the blunt, top-down manufacturing process that employs strong chemicals and often produces unusable materials with space, size and efficiency limitations.
Instead, researchers used self-assembly, a process by which chemical reactants crystallize at lower temperatures mediated by nanoscale metal catalysts to spontaneously form nanowires that were 30-50 nanometers in diameter and 10 micrometers in length, and then they fabricated memory devices on silicon substrates.
"We measured the resulting nanowires for write-current amplitude, switching speed between amorphous and crystalline phases, long-term durability and data retention time," Agarwal said.
Tests showed extremely low power consumption for data encoding (0.7mW per bit). They also indicated the data writing, erasing and retrieval (50 nanoseconds) to be 1,000 times faster than conventional Flash memory and indicated the device would not lose data even after approximately 100,000 years of use, all with the potential to realize terabit-level nonvolatile memory device density.
"This new form of memory has the potential to revolutionize the way we share information, transfer data and even download entertainment as consumers," Agarwal said. "This represents a potential sea-change in the way we access and store data."
Phase-change memory in general features faster read/write, better durability and simpler construction compared with other memory technologies such as Flash. The challenge has been to reduce the size of phase change materials by conventional lithographic techniques without damaging their useful properties. Self-assembled phase-change nanowires, as created by Penn researchers, operate with less power and are easier to scale, providing a useful new strategy for ideal memory that provides efficient and durable control of memory several orders of magnitude greater than current technologies.