UK academics spearhead next-gen memristor research
The UK’s University of Southampton has been awarded a multimillion-pound program to lead the development of innovative nanotechnology that could open the door to a new generation of electronics.
Professor Themis Prodromakis from the Biomedical Electronics research group is the principal investigator of the program, which is predominantly funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council along with industry contributions. Combined funding for the program exceeds £11 million.
Working with Imperial College London and the University of Manchester, as well as industrial partners, the project will centre on memristors and their ability to enable electronics systems to be configured with increased capability. Professor Prodromakis described the project as “very exciting” and said he was delighted to lead it.
“Memristor technologies bring great prospects for next-generation chips, which need to be highly reconfigurable yet affordable, scalable and energy efficient, not to mention secure,” he said.
“To achieve this, we have assembled some of the UK’s best academics and industrialists for developing the core technology as well as the required tools for demonstrating the benefits of the technology in real working services and products.”
Traditionally, the processing of data in electronics has relied on integrated circuits featuring vast numbers of transistors — microscopic switches that control the flow of electrical current by turning it on or off. The size of transistors has reduced to meet the increasing demands of technology, but they are now reaching their physical limit. For example, the processing chips that power smartphones containing an average of 5 billion transistors.
The good news is that memristors are smaller and simpler in form than transistors, and emit less energy. They also have the ability to retain data by ‘remembering’ the amount of charge that has passed through them — potentially resulting in computers that switch on and off instantly and never forget.
“For decades we have followed the pattern that computers should have separate processor and memory units, but these are now struggling to cope with the masses of data in the public domain,” Professor Prodromakis said. “Soon the span of functionality in future Internet of Things (IoT) systems will be much wider than what we know from today’s smartphones, tablets or smart watches.
“This unique program of activities will allow us to develop reconfigurable electronic systems that are at the forefront of innovation through being embedded almost everywhere in our physical world — within vehicles and infrastructure or even within the human body.
“We look forward to bringing the change in modern electronics.”
The University of Southampton has previously demonstrated a new memristor technology that can store up to 128 discernible memory states per switch — almost four times more than previously reported.
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