ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA - November 22, 2008 – The memristor, a once dormant electronic circuit theory developed with funding from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), may soon revolutionize PC computing. In fact, PC World Magazine hails the memristor as one of the “15 Hot New Technologies That Will Change Everything” (October 2008).
Imagine it: A circuit nearly one thousand times smaller than a human hair with the ability to “remember” the currents that flow through it, even in an “off” state. It means rebooting your computer in moments, and starting out right where you left off whether two minutes or two weeks ago.
Although the memristor had technologists buzzing Friday at the Memristor and Memrystic Devices Symposium in Berkley, Calif., it actually evolved from research derived from an ONR Joint Services Electronics Program (JSEP) award more than 35 years ago.
“I think this is a good illustration of how seemingly long-shot basic research ideas could lead to large payoff down the road,” said Dr. Chagaan Baatar, a program officer in ONR’s Electronics, Sensors and Network Research division.
The memristor is one of two ONR-funded technologies listed in TIME Magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2008.” Supported through ONR’s foresight and funding, UC Berkley’s Leon Chua first theorized the visionary circuitry concept in 1971. He spoke at the symposium Friday.
“After all of these years, I thought people were going to forget it, but it was a real thrill to realize that someone was going to build it,” Chua said. “This will open the floodgates for people to realize that this is not the end. This is just the beginning [of] a whole new way of looking at nonlinear circuits.”
Chua credits Hewlett-Packard Labs for morphing the academic idea into an actual prototype.
“It’s clear that HP is moving very quickly,” he said.
R. Stanley Williams, founding director of Hewlett-Packard Labs’ Quantum Science Research Laboratory, filed the computer giant’s first memristor patent two years ago. If successful, some technologists predict the memristor could render RAM and flash memory obsolete in as little as a decade.
Dr. Baatar’s nanoelectronics program currently funds Chua’s research on cellular neural/nonlinear networks. Of the memristor’s possible future applications, Dr. Baatar sees another possible application in equipping the memristor to mimic how brain cells transmit information from one cell to another. Chua agrees.
“This is the first time where it is finally possible to build a brain-like computer that is totally different from what we have today,” Chua said. “We’re going to have to start teaching our students in our classes and in some cases, to revise our textbooks, if we want to prepare our students for the future, a future that is very bright.”
In its August 2008 issue, EE Times magazine also lauded the memristor, suggesting that it could launch the next great technology revolution.
The Office of Naval Research (ONR) manages science and technology research for the Navy and Marine Corps. ONR sponsors basic and applied research in oceanography, advanced materials, sensors, robotics, biomedical science and technology, electronics, surveillance, mathematics, manufacturing technology, information science, advanced combat systems, and technologies for ships, submarines, aircraft, ground vehicles—and much more. For information about ONR's programs, go to http://www.onr.navy.mil.