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US boffins develop molecular memory

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That 512MB of SDRAM still not enough for your Windows 2000 installation? A research team from Yale and Rice universities reckons it has the answer: molecule-sized memory cells.

In a paper to be presented at the International Electron Devices Meeting in Washington DC next month, the team claims to have created a single-bit memory cell not from standard silicon but from an organic molecule.

"We've demonstrated a memory element the size of a single molecule," said team leader Mark Reed, Harold Hodgkinson professor of engineering and applied science at Yale. "The fabrication of the molecular memory was done using a method called 'self-assembly,' which has the potential to dramatically reduce cost."

Such a technology would also allow system memory to be expanded way beyond current capacities for comparable cost. Another benefit, the paper suggests, is a degree of non-volatility: the molecular memory can hold its data for roughly one million times longer than a standard DRAM cell.

But while the Yale/Rice team has figured out how to build a molecular memory cell, more work will be necessary to allow computer systems to use it.

"With the single molecule memory, all a general-purpose ultimate molecular computer now needs is a reversible single molecule switch," said Reed. "I anticipate we will see a demonstration of one very soon."

And there lies the rub: a demo may come soon, but the team believe real products based on the technology are at least three to five years away.

In the meantime, other researchers are working equally hard to come up the with next-generation, post-silicon memory technology. Earlier this year, we reported on work carried out at the UK's Keele University, which promised to provide 2300GB of storage in a space no bigger than a PC Card module -- for around $35 a part. ®

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