Silicon has long been associated with the idea of the memory chip. It has long offered the best combination of properties for flash memory technology. But, recent developments from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) clue in to a future dominated by flash memory chips made from graphene and molybdenite.
Graphene and molybdenite have creating their own separate buzz in the industry recently. Graphene could open up new possibilities in audio reproduction thanks to its excellent frequency response even in an un-tampered state. In regards to the memory chip, however, it can lend its conducting abilities to the mixture. Molybdenite, on the other hand, has been praised for its ability to switch rapidly between electrical states with only minimal power consumption. Both materials offer hope of an even tinier memory chip in the future, since both graphene and molybdenite have layers that are only an atom thick. Successful incorporation of these two materials into a working flash memory chip prototype could give an all new meaning to miniature form factors and device flexibility.
The research scientists from EPFL designed a memory chip model from the two materials in its Laboratory of Nanometer Electronics and Structures (LANES). They came up with a prototype that uses the sandwich-like geometry of “field effect.” A layer of molybdenite is sandwiched between layers of graphene for improved electric charge transmission. The molybdenite here functions as an “ideal energy band” because of its relative ease of switching between “on” and “off” states. The top part of the sandwich is composed of several layers of graphene that function as memory storage. What results from the transistor prototype from EPFL is a memory chip that has a design that not only promotes better data storage, but just might be able to keep data without the presence of electricity. Similar memory technology is found in cameras, laptops, and printers; but, the technology is still based on silicon.
“Combining these two materials enabled us to make great progress in miniaturization, and also using these transistors we can make flexible nanoelectronic devices,” explains Andras Kis, author of the study and director of LANES. The prototype stores a bit of memory, just a like a traditional cell. But according to the scientist, because molybdenite is thinner than silicon and thus more sensitive to charge, it offers great potential for more efficient data storage.
The biggest drawback about the developments from EPFL is the lack of any indicator of the flash memory prototype’s commercial release into the market. It may take a long time before we see a model that can perform well enough to warrant a switch from silicon.