HP advances next-gen 'memristor' memory technology

HP scientists have made a small breakthrough in the development of a next-generation memory technology called memristors, which some see as a potential replacement for today's widely used flash and DRAM technologies.

In a paper to be published Monday in the journal "Nanotechnology," scientists report that they have mapped out the basic chemistry and structure of what happens inside a memristor during its electrical operation.

Previously, although working memristors had been built in the labs, scientists didn't know exactly what was happening inside the tiny structures. So while HP was already confident it could commercialize the technology, this discovery will allow it to greatly improve its performance, said Stan Williams, a senior fellow at HP.

"We were on a path where we would have had something that works reasonably well, but this improves our confidence and should allow us to improve the devices such that they are significantly better," he said.

Memristors were first described in 1971 by a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to that, scientists knew of only three basic circuit elements -- the resistor, the capacitor and the inductor. Professor Leon Chua posited that there was a fourth.

Decades later, scientists at HP proved that memristors existed, and further proved that they could be made to switch back and forth between two or more levels of electrical resistance, which would allow them to represent the ones and zeros in digital computing.