Ultra-Thin Memory Storage For Nanocomputer

Engineers worldwide have been developing alternative ways to provide greater memory storage capacity on even smaller computer chips. Previous research into two-dimensional atomic sheets for memory storage has failed to uncover their potential — until now. A team of electrical engineers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with Peking University scientists, has developed the thinnest memory storage device with dense memory capacity, paving the way for faster, smaller and smarter computer chips for everything from consumer electronics to big data to brain-inspired computing.

For a long time, the consensus was that it wasn’t possible to make memory devices from materials that were only one atomic layer thick,” said Deji Akinwande, associate professor in the Cockrell School of Engineering’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “With our new ‘atomristors,’ we have shown it is indeed possible.”

Made from 2-D nanomaterials, the “atomristors” — a term Akinwande coined — improve upon memristors, an emerging memory storage technology with lower memory scalability. He and his team published their findings in the January issue of Nano Letters.

Atomristors will allow for the advancement of Moore’s Law at the system level by enabling the 3-D integration of nanoscale memory with nanoscale transistors on the same chip for advanced computing systems,” Akinwande said.

Memory storage and transistors have, to date, always been separate components on a microchip, but atomristors combine both functions on a single, more efficient computer system. By using metallic atomic sheets (graphene) as electrodes and semiconducting atomic sheets (molybdenum sulfide) as the active layer, the entire memory cell is a sandwich about 1.5 nanometers thick, which makes it possible to densely pack atomristors layer by layer in a plane. This is a substantial advantage over conventional flash memory, which occupies far larger space. In addition, the thinness allows for faster and more efficient electric current flow.

Given their size, capacity and integration flexibility, atomristors can be packed together to make advanced 3-D chips that are crucial to the successful development of brain-inspired computing. One of the greatest challenges in this burgeoning field of engineering is how to make a memory architecture with 3-D connections akin to those found in the human brain.

The sheer density of memory storage that can be made possible by layering these synthetic atomic sheets onto each other, coupled with integrated transistor design, means we can potentially make computers that learn and remember the same way our brains do,” Akinwande said.

Source: https://news.utexas.edu

How To Erase Chips Remotely

A military drone flying on a reconnaissance mission is captured behind enemy lines, setting into motion a team of engineers who need to remotely delete sensitive information carried on the drone’s chips. Because the chips are optical and not electronic, the engineers can now simply flash a beam of UV light onto the chip to instantly erase all content. Disaster averted.

This James Bond-esque chip is closer to reality because of a new development in a nanomaterial developed by Yuebing Zheng, a professor of mechanical engineering and materials science and engineering in the Cockrell School of Engineering. His team described its findings in the journal Nano Letters.


The molecules in this material are very sensitive to light, so we can use a UV light or specific light wavelengths to erase or create optical components,” Zheng said. “Potentially, we could incorporate this LED into the chip and erase its contents wirelessly. We could even time it to disappear after a certain period of time.”

To test their innovation, the researchers used a green laser to develop a waveguide — a structure or tunnel that guides light waves from one point to another — on their nanomaterial. They then erased the waveguide with a UV light, and re-wrote it on the same material using the green laser. The researchers believe they are the first to rewrite a waveguide, which is a crucial photonic component and a building block for integrated circuits, using an all-optical technique.

Source: https://www.eurekalert.org/

Bubble-Pen To Build Nanocomputer, Sensor, Solar Panel…

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have solved a problem in micro- and nanofabrication — how to quickly, gently and precisely handle tiny particles — that will allow researchers to more easily build tiny machines, biomedical sensors, optical computers, solar panels and other devices. They have developed a device and technique, called bubble-pen lithography, that can efficiently handle nanoparticles — the tiny pieces of gold, silicon and other materials used in nanomanufacturing. The new method relies on microbubbles to inscribe, or write, nanoparticles onto a surface.

A research team led by Texas Engineering assistant professor Yuebing Zheng has invented a way to handle these small particles and lock them into position without damaging them. Using microbubbles to gently transport the particles, the bubble-pen lithography technique can quickly arrange particles in various shapes, sizes, compositions and distances between nanostructures.

bubble-pen litho

The ability to control a single nanoparticle and fix it to a substrate without damaging it could open up great opportunities for the creation of new materials and devices,” Zheng said. “The capability of arranging the particles will help to advance a class of new materials, known as metamaterials, with properties and functions that do not exist in current natural materials.

The team, which includes Cockrell School associate professor Deji Akinwande and professor Andrew Dunn, describe their patented device and technique in a paper published in Nano Letters.

Source: https://news.utexas.edu/

‘Self-Healing’ Gel Repairs Electronic Circuit

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a first-of-its-kind self-healing gel that repairs and connects electronic circuits, creating opportunities to advance the development of flexible electronics, biosensors and batteries as energy storage devices. Although technology is moving toward lighter, flexible, foldable and rollable electronics, the existing circuits that power them are not built to flex freely and repeatedly self-repair cracks or breaks that can happen from normal wear and tear.

Until now, self-healing materials have relied on application of external stimuli such as light or heat to activate repair. The UT Austinsupergel” material has high conductivity (the degree to which a material conducts electricity) and strong mechanical and electrical self-healing properties.

self-healed gelSelf-repaired supergel supports its own weight after being sliced in half

In the last decade, the self-healing concept has been popularized by people working on different applications, but this is the first time it has been done without external stimuli,” said mechanical engineering assistant professor Guihua Yu, who developed the gel. “There’s no need for heat or light to fix the crack or break in a circuit or battery, which is often required by previously developed self-healing materials.

Source: http://news.utexas.edu/

Electronic Tatoo On The Skin Monitors Vital Signals

A team of researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin has invented a method for producing inexpensive and high-performing wearable patches that can continuously monitor the body’s vital signs for human health and performance tracking, potentially outperforming traditional monitoring tools such as cardiac event monitors. Led by Assistant Professor Nanshu Lu, the team’s manufacturing method aims to construct disposable tattoo-like health monitoring patches for the mass production of epidermal electronics, a popular technology that Lu helped develop in 2011.

The team’s breakthrough is a repeatable “cut-and-paste” method that cuts manufacturing time from several days to only 20 minutes. The researchers believe their new method is compatible with roll-to-roll manufacturing — an existing method for creating devices in bulk using a roll of flexible plastic and a processing machine.

Reliable, ultrathin wearable electronic devices that stick to the skin like a temporary tattoo are a relatively new innovation. These devices have the ability to pick up and transmit the human body’s vital signals, tracking heart rate, hydration level, muscle movement, temperature and brain activity. Although it is a promising invention, a lengthy, tedious and costly production process has until now hampered these wearables’ potential.

epidermal electronics

One of the most attractive aspects of epidermal electronics is their ability to be disposable,” Lu said. “If you can make them inexpensively, say for $1, then more people will be able to use them more frequently. This will open the door for a number of mobile medical applications and beyond.”

The UT Austin method is the first dry and portable process for producing these electronics, which, unlike the current method, does not require a clean room, wafers and other expensive resources and equipment. Instead, the technique relies on freeform manufacturing, which is similar in scope to 3-D printing but different in that material is removed instead of added.

The researchers published a paper on their patent-pending process in Advanced Materials.

Source: http://news.utexas.edu/

Smart Windows

Researchers in the Cockrell School of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin are one step closer to delivering smart windows with a new level of energy efficiency, engineering materials that allow windows to reveal light without transferring heat and, conversely, to block light while allowing heat transmission, as described in two new research papers. By allowing indoor occupants to more precisely control the energy and sunlight passing through a window, the new materials could significantly reduce costs for heating and cooling buildings.

In 2013, chemical engineering professor Delia Milliron and her team became the first to develop dual-band electrochromic materials that blend two materials with distinct optical properties for selective control of visible and heat-producing near-infrared light (NIR). The team now has engineered two new advancements in electrochromic materials — a highly selective cool mode and a warm mode — not thought possible several years ago.

The cool mode material is a major step toward a commercialized product because it enables control of 90 percent of NIR and 80 percent of the visible light from the sun and takes only minutes to switch between modes. The previously reported material could require hours. To achieve this high performance, Milliron and a team, including Cockrell School postdoctoral researcher Jongwook Kim and collaborator Brett Helms of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, developed a new nanostructured architecture for electrochromic materials that allows for a cool mode to block near-infrared light while allowing the visible light to shine through. This could help reduce energy costs for cooling buildings and homes during the summer. The researchers reported the new architecture in Nano Letters.

smart windows

We believe our new architected nanocomposite could be seen as a model material, establishing the ideal design for a dual-band electrochromic material,” Milliron said. “This material could be ideal for application as a smart electrochromic window for buildings.”

Source: http://news.utexas.edu/

One-Atom-Thin Silicon Transistors For NanoComputer

Researchers at The University of Texas at Austin‘s Cockrell School of Engineering have created the first transistors made of silicene, the world’s thinnest silicon material. Their research holds the promise of building dramatically faster, smaller and more efficient computer chips.

Made of a one-atom-thick layer of silicon atoms, silicene has outstanding electrical properties but has until now proved difficult to produce and work with. Deji Akinwande, an assistant professor in the Cockrell School’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and his team, including lead researcher Li Tao, solved one of the major challenges surrounding silicene by demonstrating that it can be made into transistors —semiconductor devices used to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power.

The first-of-their-kind devices developed by Akinwande and his team rely on the thinnest of any semiconductor material, a long-standing dream of the chip industry, and could pave the way for future generations of faster, energy-efficient computer chips.

Buckled honeycomb lattice structure of silicene

Apart from introducing a new player in the playground of 2-D materials, silicene, with its close chemical affinity to silicon, suggests an opportunity in the road map of the semiconductor industry,” Akinwande said. “The major breakthrough here is the efficient low-temperature manufacturing and fabrication of silicene devices for the first time.”

Despite its promise for commercial adaptation, silicene has proved extremely difficult to create and work with because of its complexity and instability when exposed to air. To work around these issues, Akinwande teamed with Alessandro Molle at the Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Agrate Brianza, Italy, to develop a new method for fabricating the silicene that reduces its exposure to air. In the near-term, Akinwande will continue to investigate new structures and methods for creating silicene, which may lead to low-energy, high-speed digital computer chips.

The research work has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

Source: http://www.utexas.edu/