A strange, cerebral memory of vanadium dioxide glass


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dated: 2022-11-20 17:19:31 .

Computers and living organisms store memories in very different ways. New research describes a highly unusual material – vanadium dioxide glass – that appears to store memories within its atomic and molecular configurations. Because of this, it behaves more like a neuron and less like a digital chip.

The main banks of memory in a computer, often called RAM and cache memory, are essentially electronic prisons. Inside each “jail” memory cell, the computer can check whether it is “occupied” or “unoccupied” by an electron to read the values ​​0 or 1. The electrons are released and the memory is lost.

The experiments described in the publication (here is the free version) led to the surprising result that vanadium dioxide (VO2) glass seems to preserve memory in a very different way. VO2 not only “remembers” “full” or “empty”, but also a number of specific states as well as when the information was stored. It does this without capturing electrons or even requiring a continuous power supply.

Crystal against glass

The ability of VO2 to retain this memory is likely related to the nature of the glass. Crystalline materials have a rigid structure of atoms fixed in precise positions. The angular facets, geometric patterns and perfect planes of the crystal are the result of trillions of atoms arranged perfectly in a specific way. Glasses, on the other hand, have an amorphous structure: the atoms are packed together, but their arrangement is a huge mess, without any order in the crystal.

VO2 begins as an ordered crystal. The value is stored in its memory by pulsing electrical signals that turn the crystal into glass. The memory is read by pulsing again, causing the glass VO2 to turn back into a crystal. The transformation takes some time as the atoms move from random positions back into the correct order. This time period is also determined by how long ago the VO2 was and how many pulses were applied to it.

structural memory

The reason why glass can remember a series of values ​​is not entirely clear. Interestingly, memory does not seem to be held by electrons. The authors demonstrate this by performing clever experiments using a laser to change the electron population in the glass and show no change in memory. Then it is likely that the memory is related to the arrangement of the atoms.

The electrical current pulse that reads the memory cannot pass through the glass. It must create a chain of conductive (crystalline) atoms to reach the other side where it is read. Somehow the chaotic arrangement of the glass atoms is aligned with the stored memory. Although the details of this are unknown, the time it takes for the current pulse to devitrify and cross VO2 can reliably tell what number (of pulses) is stored in memory at any given time.

Although memory has value, its internal structure seems to evolve easily. In some applications, this effect can be an unwanted memory value shift that needs to be corrected. Despite this, the glass VO2 tank remains without power for at least three hours, and possibly much longer. This can allow computer chips to retain memory on board without the need for continuous electricity to maintain electron retention.

A final useful feature of VO2 storage is that, although it does not store a memory with electrons, the electrons can set and read its value. This would enable its integration into existing computer circuits. VO2 storage glass won’t be in your next smartphone, but this strange material could lead to a brilliant invention in the years to come.

Source: bigthink.com

A strange, cerebral memory of vanadium dioxide glass

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Source https://canadatoday.news/ca/the-strange-brain-like-memory-of-vanadium-dioxide-glass-155583/

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