Buckyballs store 1s and 0s in new memory device

From Boston, at a meeting of the Materials Research Society

In pursuit of faster and denser memory chips that might one day enable computers to boot instantly, scientists have created a material that stores bits of data in the soccer ball–shaped carbon molecules known as buckyballs.

Research groups around the world have made great strides in devising molecule-based electronic devices. But organizing such devices in vast numbers has proved difficult. Alternatively, some scientists have focused on making chips out of polymers and other organic materials, a much easier task. However, “organic electronics tend to be slow,” says Alokik Kanwal of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J.

Kanwal and his colleagues decided to combine buckyballs and polymers, hoping to end up with a new electronic material that combines the best that each ingredient has to offer.

The researchers sandwiched a mix of the two ingredients between two sets of aluminum tracks, which served as electrical contacts. Applying a voltage to the material caused the buckyballs to switch between two electronic states, each of which represents a 1 or a 0. The molecules retained the information until the researchers applied an opposite voltage. This erased the data by switching the buckyballs back to their original state.

The materials achieved switching speeds between 10 and 30 nanoseconds, which are in the ballpark for a useful memory chip, Kanwal says. What’s more, the buckyball-polymer memory consumed little power and could store data for at least 24 hours. These combined traits make the material a good candidate for future memory devices, says Kanwal.

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