Computer memory is one of those things that, no matter how much one has, one always wants more. (Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind a little more human memory in my noggin, but the doctor told me to go home when I asked for an upgrade. He muttered something about “not enough insurance in the world” under his breath, but I’m sure I have no idea what he was talking about.) Scientists at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana are working on a new kind of computer memory that looks to be faster and able to run on less power than current models. It’s called ferroelectric transistor random access memory — or FeTRAM — and it incorporates silicon nanowires and a ferroelectric polymer that’s able to switch polarity at the beck and call of applied electrical fields.
FeTRAMs are similar to currently existing FeRAMs (ferroelectric random access memories), but the newer technology being developed differs by storing its data with a ferroelectric transistor rather than a capacitor, which allows for nondestructive readout of that data — keeping it intact for a longer period of time. The nonvolatile storage system of FeTRAM technology keeps this data in memory even when the computer is turned off, and it’s estimated that, once perfected, FeTRAM may operate with 99% less energy than flash memory.
FeTRAM Serves the three main functions of computer memory:
- Writing data
- Reading data
- Holding data for an extended period of time
“You want to hold memory as long as possible — 10 to 20 years — and you should be able to read and write as many times as possible,” says team member Saptarshi Das. “It should also be low power to keep your laptop from getting too hot. And it needs to scale, meaning you can pack many devices into a very small area. The use of silicon nanowires along with this ferroelectric polymer has been motivated by these requirements.”