Flash Memory That’ll Keep On Shrinking

Using atom-thick carbon instead of silicon could pack ever more data into portable electronics.

Katherine Bourzac

Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, and one of the largest manufacturers of computer memory, Samsung, have created a new kind of flash memory that uses graphene—atom-thick sheets of pure carbon—along with silicon to store information.

Incorporating graphene could help extend the viability of flash memory technology for years to come, and allow future portable electronics to store far more data.

Chipmakers pack increasing amounts of data in the same physical area by miniaturizing the memory cells used to store individual bits. Inside today’s flash drives, these cells are nanoscale "floating gate" transistors. Recent years have seen the rapid miniaturization of flash cells, enabling, for example, the iPhone 4 to store twice as much data as the iPhone 3. But below a certain cell size, silicon becomes less stable, and this has the potential to halt the march of miniaturization.

Graphene-based technology like that demonstrated the UCLA team and Samsung could let flash memory continue shrinking. The group’s prototypes devices are described online in the journal ACS Nano.

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