Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with Peking University scientists, have developed what they refer to as the thinnest memory storage device with dense memory capacity, paving the way for faster, smaller and smarter computer chips for everything from consumer electronics to big data to brain-inspired computing.

They named their creation "atomristors", and stated that before this work, it was considered impossible to make memory devices from materials that were only one atomic layer thick, The the "atomristors" improve upon memristors, an emerging memory storage technology with lower memory scalability.

"Atomristors will allow for the advancement of Moore's Law at the system level by enabling the 3D integration of nanoscale memory with nanoscale transistors on the same chip for advanced computing systems," the team said.

Memory storage and transistors have traditionally been separate components on a microchip, but atomristors combine both functions on a single, more efficient computer system. By using graphene sheets as electrodes and semiconducting atomic sheets (molybdenum sulfide) as the active layer, the entire memory cell is a sandwich about 1.5 nanometers thick, which makes it possible to densely pack atomristors layer by layer in a plane. This is a substantial advantage over conventional flash memory, which occupies far larger space. In addition, the thinness allows for faster and more efficient electric current flow.

Given their size, capacity and integration flexibility, atomristors can be packed together to make advanced 3D chips that are crucial to the successful development of brain-inspired computing. One of the greatest challenges in this growing field of engineering is how to make a memory architecture with 3D connections akin to those found in the human brain. "The sheer density of memory storage that can be made possible by layering these synthetic atomic sheets onto each other, coupled with integrated transistor design, means we can potentially make computers that learn and remember the same way our brains do," the researchers said.

The research team also discovered another unique application for the technology. In existing ubiquitous devices such as smartphones and tablets, radio frequency switches are used to connect incoming signals from the antenna to one of the many wireless communication bands in order for different parts of a device to communicate and cooperate with one another. This activity can significantly affect a smartphone's battery life. The atomristors are the smallest radio frequency memory switches to be demonstrated with no DC battery consumption, which can ultimately lead to longer battery life.

"Overall, we feel that this discovery has real commercialization value as it won't disrupt existing technologies," the team said. "Rather, it has been designed to complement and integrate with the silicon chips already in use in modern tech devices."