Hot new memory

Controlling the flow of heat could be another way to store digital information

4:38pm, December 17, 2008

Someday, computers might store information using not only electric charges or magnetism, but also tiny packets of heat called phonons. Such heat-based memory is theoretically possible within the laws of physics, new research shows, and this memory would be durable and could be read without destroying the information — two key requirements for useful data storage.

Circuits based on quantum packets of heat rather than electric charges could enable computers to use waste heat — which is currently just shed to keep a processor from overheating — to perform useful computations and store information, the researchers suggest in an upcoming Physical Review Letters. A surge of research in the last few years on the physics of controlling the flow of heat packets has yielded designs for heat-based diodes, transistors and logic gates that perform AND, OR and NOT operations.

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