New technology uses light instead of electricity to move information quickly
Why it matters to you
A material that enables more power-efficient and faster light-based memory makes all sorts of electronic devices more potent.
The hunt for new and improved technologies never ceases, which is a good thing for the future of computing. As long as our hunger for faster and more powerful PCs continues, then it appears that researchers are up to the task of the continued advancements that we demand.
One area where work continues unabated is in the quest for new and faster memory, where mundane electronic technologies remain at the heart of even the fastest random-access memory (RAM). Researchers at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, hope to change all of that with their development of a new material that could make RAM perform faster and more efficiently.
The material is dubbed light-induced magnetoresistive RAM (LI-RAM), and it essentially “allows computer chips to exist at a molecular level,” as the university’s blog describes it. Chemist Natia Frank is behind the effort, which aims to reduce the power consumed and heat produced by modern PC processors — to break through the “power wall,” as it is called.
LI-RAM utilizes 10 percent less power than current RAM, produces virtually no heat, and is more durable. On top of all that, it is also faster. What makes LI-RAM special is that it uses light rather than electricity to move information around a system.
As Frank puts it, “The material in LI-RAM has the unusual quality of rapidly changing magnetic properties when hit with green light.” Information is processed and stored on single molecules, making once hypothetical “universal memory” technology possible.
According to the researchers, about 10 percent of all electricity is consumed by information communications technology, while discarded ewaste amounts to 3 million tons of hazardous materials on a global scale. LI-RAM would help alleviate some of those concerns by utilizing less power and lasting longer.
Researchers plan to use the LI-RAM for more than just mobile phones, PCs, and consumer electronics. As Frank explains, “Potentially, this material could have other uses in medical imaging, solar cells and a range of nanotechnologies. This is just the beginning.” It’s anticipated that the technology could make its way into consumer products within the next decade and it is already in the hands of international electronics manufacturers with just that goal in mind.