From The Editors Technology

Researchers Speed Up Modern Computers Using Biological Virus

Researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have discovered a unique way to reduce delays that occur when information moves from one piece of computer hardware to another.

The findings, published last month in the journal ‘ACS Applied Nano Materials,’ show that a biological virus called ‘M13 bacteriophage’ can be used to make a single memory structure that would mitigate the “millisecond-order time delays” in transferring and storing information between silicon- and magnetic-based memories.

In today’s computers, data is transferred and stored between a conventional silicon-based random access memory (RAM), which is fast but volatile, and a magnetic-based read only memory (ROM), or hard disk drive (HDD), which is relatively slow but non-volatile.

As mentioned, this method of data transfer and storage typically results in millisecond delays, which, according to the study, can be sped up by using a single universal-type memory platform that is not only fast but non-volatile, too.

Since developing such a system using traditional silicon memory and magnetic drives is next to impossible, researchers Desmond Loke, Griffin Clausen, Jacqueline Ohmura, Tow-Chong Chong, and Angela Belche started exploring the possibility of using phase-change materials, or PCMs.

Although PCMs are known to be excellent constituents for developing universal memory systems, they tend to consume high amounts of energy and undergo elemental separation at around 620 kelvins (326.85 C).

However, the research team found a way to circumvent “this major roadblock” – as described by Desmond Loke, an assistant professor at SUTD and one of the authors of the study – by using “tiny wire technology.”

Since the conventional method of making these tiny wires can reach unmanageable temperatures of up to 720 K that causes segregation of binary-type PCMs, the MIT and SUTD team discovered that using M 13 bacteriophage – a virus of the non-digital kind – they could develop a wire-like PCM at a relatively reduced temperature.

The M 13 bacteriophage method is a big step forward in computer technology as it overcomes some of the most critical limitations that traditional PCMs are faced with.

With further research, it shouldn’t be too long before near-perfect universal memory systems can be developed on a commercial scale, saving us the millisecond lapses that we now have to contend with.

“This possibility leads the way to the elimination of the millisecond storage and transfer delays needed to progress modern computing,” said Loke.

“This approach addresses some of the critical material compositional and structural constraints that currently diminish the utility of PCMs in universal memory systems,” write the research paper authors.

“This could not only facilitate connection of the templated PCM to external circuitry but also assist controlled placement to a specific location on the semiconductor substrate, thus opening new opportunities for optimizing the performance of wirelike, phase-change, nonvolatile memory devices,” the paper concludes.

“M13 bacteriophage surface used as a scaffold to build a nanowire on molecular sizes (6.5 nm),” tweeted physicist John Mauer, who was not part of the research.

“Interesting application is 3D connections, part of the problem with logic to memory bus problems, but not sure what the metallurgy is from the paper other than resistive GeSn,” Mauer wrote.

Here are some more reactions to this computer technology of the foreseeable future.

It must be said, though, that this is not the only technology looking to bypass the conventional RAM-ROM combination.

In another study published in the journal ‘Nature Nanotechnology’ in April, researchers at Shanghai’s Fudan University also claimed to have developed a single “semi-floating gate memory based on van der Waals heterostructures for quasi-non-volatile applications.”

According to the Chinese researchers, their single memory-type would allow you to control the length of time you wanted the memory to retain data.

“People in the future may receive a disc in which the data is only effective for, say, three days, which elevates the security of the information,” lead author of the paper Zhang Wei told China Daily.

“People can also have tailor-made flash drives with the new storage technology,” he said, adding that “the data stored inside will be regularly emptied at an appointed time.”

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