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Nanotechnology boffins are exploring a new type of nonvolatile memory that not only has the potential of being faster than today's flash RAM, but also requires 99 per cent less energy.

Called ferroelectric transistor random access memory – FeTRAM, for short – the scheme is based on a new type of transistor that combines silicon nanowires with an organic ferroelectric polymer – P(VDF-TrFE) – that switches polarity when an electric field is applied to it.

The technology is detailed by researchers working at Purdue University's Birck Nanotechnology Center in a just-published paper in the American Chemical Society's Nano Letters.

According to a release from the Birck center, the technology is a step beyond existing nonvolatile FeRAM tech, in that data can be read from an FeTRAM in a nondestructive fashion due to the ferroelectric transistor. FeRAM uses capacitance to release the data, and once you read it, it's gone.

Organic Ferroelectric Material Based Novel Random Access Memory Cell

FeTRAM joins the race to the next-generation of fast, low-power memory technologies

The goal of the FeTRAM research is to create a long-lasting, low-power, read/write data container. "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," researcher Saptarshi Das says. "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."

Although doctoral-student Das and his professor Joerg Appenzeller have demonstrated a working circuit, they're a long way from a marketable product. "It's in a very nascent stage," Das says.

Despite being in the early days of testing, they claim that the FeTRAM circuits will be able to be built using the same manufacturing techniques that are used for today's industry-standard CMOS chips.

In the ongoing drive to lower power requirements and increase speed, we'll be keeping our eye on FeTRAM as it competes with other such future-tech candidates as phase-change memory ®.

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