Computer hard drives store massive amounts of information, but they write and retrieve it slowly. University of Houston physicist Alex Ignatiev has developed a new memory chip that could perform such tasks in an instant. In the short term, the chips might replace the slow and expensive flash memory cards used in digital cameras and deliver “nonvolatile” random access memory that will retain data even if a PC crashes.
To store data, the chip changes the electrical resistance of a thin film of metal oxide by sending a small electric current through it. Besides being faster, Ignatiev says, the new memory should be cheaper and more energy efficient than flash memory and various other stable-memory technologies under development. Electronics maker Sharp has exclusively licensed the technology and expects to begin marketing the chips in three to five years.