HP moves closer to brain-like computing

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Researchers at Hewlett Packard and UC Santa Barbara say they've made a breakthrough in the development of a device that could revolutionize computing by mimicking the brain.

It's thought that memristors, which have the ability to 'remember' the total electronic charge that passes through them, will be able to act like synapses within electronic circuits - mimicking the brain's network of neurons,  which enables perception, thought and memory. They are believed to hold promise for a wide range of applications, including semi-autonomous robots.

Memristors are seen as a basic component of electronics, alongside resistors, capacitors and inductors, and have been suggested as a replacement for Flash and DRAM memory.

But while they have been created in the lab, scientists didn't fully understand their bahavior.

Now, though, a team has mapped out the nanoscale physical and chemical properties of memristors. They were able to study the exact channel where the resistance switching of memristors occurs through a combination of techniques.

Highly focused X-rays were used to locate and image the approximately one hundred nanometer-wide channel where the switching of resistance takes place, which could then be fed into a mathematical model of how the memristor heats up.

"One of the biggest hurdles in using these devices is understanding how they work: the microscopic picture for how they undergo such tremendous and reversible change in resistance," says John Paul Strachan of the nanoElectronics Research Group at Hewlett-Packard Labs.

"We now have a direct picture for the thermal profile that is highly localized around this channel during electrical operation, and is likely to play a large role in accelerating the physics driving the memristive behavior."