If you ever took a basic electronics course in high school and managed not to spend the entire time burning your name into a workbench with a soldering iron, chances are you remember resistors, capacitors and inductors as the three fundamental passive circuit elements. However, engineers at HP believe they may have discovered a fourth fundamental circuit element: a memory resistor, or “memristor.” The new component retains history of the information it has acquired, and has the potential to significantly change the landscape for personal computing.
The team of four researchers, led by R. Stanley Williams, published their paper in Thursday’s edition of Nature. The memristor they developed actually changes resistance depending on what voltage has been applied to it in the past, creating the potential for systems that can be powered off and powered on again without the usual boot-up required of ordinary systems. Although the existence of such an element has been speculated about since 1971, Williams and his team were the first to cook up a working example and publish their findings.
“To find something new and yet so fundamental in the mature field of electrical engineering is a big surprise, and one that has significant implications for the future of computer science,” said Williams, in a statement.
Since the non-volatile memory currently used to “remember” system states when they are turned is fairly power hungry, HP envisions systems with memristors being used to save energy on a large scale, such as with data centers. On a more personal level, it could also be used to refine existing computer processes that mimic the human brain, such as facial recognition.
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