I’m a big believer in mankind’s ability to invent its way out of problems and/or discover opportunities. And so the [somewhat edited, with bold highlights added by me too] press release below caught my eye. There’s a lot of chatter about what comes next after NAND flash; phase-change memory is one of the more promising avenues but it has some challenges. Maybe the news out of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) is making it look a whole lot more interesting. Essentially JHU engineers have “discovered some previously unknown properties of a common memory material, paving the way for development of new forms of memory drives, movie discs and computer systems that retain data more quickly, last longer and allow far more capacity than current data storage media. The work was reported April 16 in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
“The research focused on an inexpensive phase-change memory alloy composed of germanium, antimony and tellurium, called GST, for short. The material is already used in rewritable optical media, including CD-RW and DVD-RW discs. But by using diamond-tipped tools to apply pressure to the materials, the Johns Hopkins-led team uncovered new electrical resistance characteristics that could make GST even more useful to the computer and electronics industries.”
“This phase-change memory is more stable than the material used in the current flash drives. It works 100 times faster and is rewritable about 100,000 times.” Pretty impressive huh? Furthermore, the team’s lead estimated that the technology could potentially be commercialized in around 5 years. “Although this phase-change material has been used for at least two decades, the precise mechanics…have remained something of a mystery because it happens so quickly—in nanoseconds—when the material is heated. To solve this mystery…[the] team used another method to trigger the change more gradually. The researchers used two diamond tips to compress the material. They employed a process called X-ray diffraction and a computer simulation to document what was happening to the material at the atomic level. The researchers found that they could ‘tune’ the electrical resistivity of the material during the time between its change from amorphous to crystalline form.”
“Instead of going from black to white, it’s like finding shades or a shade of gray in between….By having a wide range of resistance, you can have a lot more control. If you have multiple states, you can store a lot more data.”
For the technically literate amongst you, the study itself can be found here. Meantime, it’s just good to know; there are other options as well of course – what I take from this is that ‘amazing’ hasn’t happened yet!