Novel chip material could hold 50 times more data

Paul Boughton
North Carolina State University engineers have created a new material that could allow a fingernail-size computer chip to store the equivalent of 20 high-definition DVDs or 250 million pages of text, which far exceeds the storage capacities of today's computer memory systems.
Led by Dr Jagdish 'Jay' Narayan, John CC Fan Family Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering and director of the National Science Foundation Centre for Advanced Materials and Smart Structures at NC State, the team members made their breakthrough using the process of selective doping in which an impurity is added to a material to change its properties. The process also shows promise for boosting vehicle fuel economy and reducing heat produced by semiconductors.
Working at the nanometre level, the engineers added nickel to magnesium oxide, a ceramic. The resulting material contained clusters of nickel atoms no bigger than 10 square nanometres, which is a 90 per cent size reduction compared to today's techniques. Narayan says: "Instead of making a chip that stores 20 gigabytes, you have one that can handle one terabyte, or 50 times more data."
Information storage is not the only area where advances could be made. By introducing metallic properties into ceramics, Narayan says engineers could develop a new generation of ceramic engines able to withstand twice the temperatures of normal engines and achieve fuel economy of 80 miles per gallon. And since the thermal conductivity of the material would be improved, the technique could also have applications in harnessing alternative energy sources including solar energy.
The engineers' discovery also advances knowledge in the emerging field of 'spintronics,' which is dedicated to harnessing energy produced by the spinning of electrons. Most energy used today is harnessed through the movement of current and is limited by the amount of heat that it produces, but the energy created by the spinning of electrons produces no heat. The NC State engineers were able to manipulate the nanomaterial so the electrons' spin within the material could be controlled, which could prove valuable to harnessing the electrons' energy.
For more information, visit