11:37am Saturday 04 July 2020

Research mimics brain cells to boost memory power

black and white graphic of brain and numbers

Researchers are working on nanoscale memory devices using technology that mimics the human brain. Image © iStockphoto.

The RMIT University researchers have built a novel nano-structure that offers a new platform for the development of highly stable and reliable nanoscale memory devices.

The pioneering work will feature on a forthcoming cover of prestigious materials science journal Advanced Functional Materials.

Project leader Dr Sharath Sriram, co-leader of the RMIT Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group, said the nanometer-thin stacked structure was created using thin film, a functional oxide material more than 10,000 times thinner than a human hair.

“The thin film is specifically designed to have defects in its chemistry to demonstrate a ‘memristive’ effect – where the memory element’s behaviour is dependent on its past experiences,” Dr Sriram said.

“With flash memory rapidly approaching fundamental scaling limits, we need novel materials and architectures for creating the next generation of non-volatile memory.

“The structure we developed could be used for a range of electronic applications – from ultrafast memory devices that can be shrunk down to a few nanometers, to computer logic architectures that replicate the versatility and response time of a biological neural network.

“While more investigation needs to be done, our work advances the search for next generation memory technology can replicate the complex functions of human neural system – bringing us one step closer to the bionic brain.”

The research relies on memristors, touted as a transformational replacement for current hard drive technologies such as Flash, SSD and DRAM.

Dr Sharath Sriram in white lab suit holding tweezers.

Dr Sharath Sriram.

Memristors have potential to be fashioned into non-volatile solid-state memory and offer building blocks for computing that could be trained to mimic synaptic interfaces in the human brain.

Hussein Nili, a PhD researcher and lead author of the paper published in Advanced Functional Materials, said: “The finding and the material used are significant as the stable memory effect arises from pathways in the oxide that are extremely small – about 60 nanometres.

“These can also be tuned and controlled by the application of pressure, which creates new opportunities for using these memory elements as sensors and actuators.”

The research was part of a collaboration with Professor Dmitri Strukov from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery grant and RMIT’s Platform Technologies Research Institute, the research is one of a range of innovative projects conducted by the Functional Materials and Microsystems Research Group.

Led by Dr Sriram and Dr Madhu Bhaskaran, the group is closely affiliated with RMIT’s recently opened MicroNano Research Facility – where Dr Sriram is also Deputy Director – and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

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