In the not so distant future, electronic devices will be everywhere – embedded within our physical world and even in our bodies – empowering modern societies with unprecedented capabilities. Yet, the technological progress that brought us the mobile revolution will allow us to reach this point is slowing.
Up until now, the processing of data in electronics has relied on assemblies of vast numbers of transistors – microscopic switches that control the flow of electrical current by turning it on or off. Transistors have gotten smaller and smaller in order to meet the increasing demands of technology, but have nowadays reached their physical limit, with – for example – the processing chips that power smartphones containing an average of five billion transistors that are only a few atoms wide.
A novel nano-electronic technology, known as the memristor, proclaims to hold the key to a new era in electronics, being both smaller and simpler in form than transistors, low-energy, and with the ability to retain data by ‘remembering’ the amount of charge that has passed through them – akin to the behaviour of synaptic connections in the human brain.