posted on Mar, 15 2005 @ 08:54 AM
A super-dense memory chip that stores data in the form of nanoscale holes in a plastic film has made its public debut at the CeBIT electronics
exhibition in Hanover, Germany.
Storing data in the form of holes is not new - CDs use pits in a polycarbonate disc, for instance, and 19th-century looms stored patterns on punched
cards. But the "Millipede" technology from IBM's Zurich lab promises very high capacity thanks to its use of holes just 10 nanometres wide. This
means that a square chip measuring 2.4 centimetres on a side should be able to store 125 gigabytes, says the company, equivalent to 25 DVDs.
The Millipede chip achieves this by having an array of tens of thousands of silicon cantilevers, explains IBM researcher Evangelos Eleftheriou. Each
has a pointed tip that writes data by poking holes - representing a digital 0 or 1 - in the soft polymer below. The cantilever also reads the data
when needed, by measuring a change in its electrical resistance when it drops into a hole.
Electromagnetic actuators within the chip package move the polymer film beneath the cantilevers so that each tip can read and write within a
100-micrometre-square area. Data is erased using a heater in each cantilever which melts the polymer locally, smoothing the pits over for re-use.
That is the theory, but to make Millipede a commercial reality IBM admits it needs an industrial partner with expertise in the manufacture of
microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).
"We have no MEMS product line at IBM. Companies who make accelerometers or microscale actuators will have the kind of production capabilities
Millipede needs," says Eleftheriou. The technology's appearance at CeBIT was geared towards finding that partner.
At the show, IBM used a video microscope to demonstrate the micro-cantilevers going about their work on a 10 gigabyte version of a Millipede chip.
If IBM can commercialise the memory chip and get it reading and writing data at speeds of 20 to 30 megabits per second - like today's "flash"
memory chips - it hopes the technology could form the heart of future digital cameras, cellphones and USB memory sticks."
Supercomputers may soon fit onto the palm of your hand. Amazing stuff.