IBM researchers in Zurich, Switzerland, have demonstrated a single-molecule device capable of repeatedly storing and retrieving data.
Described in the Aug. 4 issue of nanotech journal Small Times, the device is a surprisingly simple organic compound that can be set to high or low resistance through electrical pulses. In the lab, it reliably retained its ability to change states over many hours and more than 500 tests, which the researchers described in the paper as "a remarkable result for a single-molecule system."
"Right now, we are concentrating on understanding the relationship between the design of the molecular system and the electrical properties measured," researcher Heike Riel told ZDNet UK. "Our next steps are to investigate the mechanism responsible for switching."
The molecule at the heart of the system, BPDN-DT, was designed by professor James Tour and co-workers at Rice University in Houston and is one of a class of compounds called Tour wires. Although it was specifically synthesized to operate in this and other devices--it has also been used in a single molecule transistor--there is still considerable debate as to how it works and what characteristics any potential commercial application may have.
At about 1.5 nanometers long, the molecule is less than a hundredth of the size of current silicon memory elements. It is widely accepted in the industry that current progress in silicon will become economically more difficult below 20nm, with fundamental physical limits being reached below 10nm. IBM says it sees molecular computing as one way of pushing past this barrier, as well as semiconducting wires, carbon nanotubes and spintronics.