Memristors Getting Closer to Ultra-Fast, Brain-Like Computing, Says HP

By Andrew Moseman | April 9, 2010 3:25 pm

memristor“Memristors” are four decades in the making, but it turns out that this fourth kind of circuit element (beyond the inductor, capacitor, and resistor) might have more potential to change computing than even its creators first believed.

In a study this week in Nature, researchers with Hewlett-Packard report that they’ve achieved “stateful logic” with their memristor, whose name derives from a mashup of “memory” and “resistor.” In a nutshell, stateful logic means that the ‘state’ of the memristor acts as both the computer and the memory. That’s a pretty big change from current computers, which typically load data from memory, perform operations on it, and then send it back [Nature]. In addition, memristors can store information even in the absence of electrical current.

While an engineer named Leon O. Chua theorized memristors back in 1971, they remained strictly theoretical until HP researchers created the first one two years ago. But while the researchers previously thought of it as just another kind of memory, this study’s find—that they themselves can perform logic—suggests memristors could go much further than that. Such a discovery can pave the way for chips that can both perform calculations and hold data, potentially eliminating the need for a traditional core CPU [CNET].

The H.P. technology is based on the ability to use an electrical current to move atoms within an ultrathin film of titanium dioxide. After the location of an atom has been shifted, even by as little as a nanometer, the result can be read as a change in the resistance of the material. That change persists even after the current is switched off, making it possible to build an extremely low-power device [The New York Times]. And the device’s speed is equally impressive: Stan Williams of HP, one of the lead authors, says they can turn on and off in a nanosecond.

Memristor development currently isn’t close to competing with ordinary silicon, but the ever-confident Williams and this team argue that they could overtake flash memory within three years, and someday surpass the phase-change memory of their competitors. For Chua, the dream goes further. “Our brains are made of memristors,” he said, referring to the function of biological synapses. “We have the right stuff now to build real brains” [The New York Times].

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Image: Stan Williams / Nature

  • Mer-mer

    I read a few articles from this online “Discover” mag–it is absolutely my favorite!!! I have always adored science and did quite well in school, although I was a music major… Bless your hearts for such a good, good magazine, and Thank you!!!

  • Brad Bartholomew

    You know if the 95% of junk DNA actually contains the memristors then the DNA is capable of storing all the data to create a virtual universe.

  • Warren Lockhart

    @ Brad Bartholomew

    Your sentence makes little or no sense at all. First, there was no discussion of DNA at all in the article.

    Second, DNA in its biological environment does not perform computation – DNA stores a set of instructions which is later translated so that proteins can be built. DNA cannot “contain” memristors any more than computer code can “contain” transistors. This sort of language makes no sense at all! You do have a rough understanding of how a computer works, right?

    Third, so-called “junk” DNA has been found to contain useful information (note – information) about processes such as gene regulation. Still, DNA was not raised in the article and is not relevant.

    You then go on to talk about DNA being able to store enough information to store a “virtual universe”. Where did that come from? Seriously? Not only is DNA ill adapted to this purpose, not only is there unlikely to be anywhere near enough storage for a universe simulation, but none of this has anything to do with the preceding article.

    Brad. I fear that you are part of this new generation of people who are so ignorant about basic science that you are ignorant about your own ignorance. But then your link leads to information about crop circles and the Mayans and rubbish to do with “communicating” with DNA (DNA is just a sequence of letters, remember!!). So not only are you ignorant about science, but your mind is twisted with absolute nonsense related to the paranormal and “Hindu philosophy” and the like. Your bizarre and ill-informed fixation with DNA has caused you to make a comment about the “memristor content of DNA” which makes no sense whatsoever, but then nothing on your website makes any sense either.

  • frik

    Too bad the science troll puked more words than the original post did O_o

    Go-Go stem cells! I’ve been drinking away my liver in anticipation of growing a new one.

  • scribbler

    Quote: “…but then nothing on your website makes any sense either.”

    Unquote: And yet you went, looked and considered it, did you not?

    I passed on both the look at the site and trying to make any sense of what was written as well as passing on pointing out the painfully obvious…

    Which was more scientific?

  • eric


    Thanks for calling Bart on his nonsense. I would have written a very similar comment, but you summed it up as well as anyone could. Please continue your “science trolling”.

    scribbler: But someone has to call the charlatans out, lest they convince more people, who become unwitting charlatans themselves.

  • Charanjeet Singh Lamba (gnosiologist : astral`scientist)

    All of known matter unto unknown super-symmetry is but trinity of
    Stuff (element) : Activity (mechanism) : Functionality (dynamicism)

    Memristors may be the Stuff` known, but what about the other two indispensables, the imponderable element of physic ( Activity) and chemistry (Dynamicism) which is indeed the arcane role & code of Bio`Piezophotonics.

    BRAIN reads quantum messages by an analytic decipher of bio`piezophotonics presenting all known as as our thoughts, all being enabled, enriched, empowered and entrained only by the ontological working of an Orderliness called dynamic mechanism as quantum-energy or Life Force Energy to play its afferent and efferent forces to display its beingness in every entity in peculiarity to the extant time-space continuum as the ultimate represent of Cosmic Efficacy & Tithonicity…

  • Matt T

    @Warren #3
    “…and rubbish to do with “communicating” with DNA (DNA is just a sequence of letters, remember!!).”
    Words are “just a series of letters” as well, and that has proven a pretty effective way of communicating. Besides, DNA is a sequence of amino acids; the ACGT letters were asigned by humans to try to make sense of the sequence of amino acids. I assure you that the body doesn’t care what those letters are.

  • scribbler

    Beliefs held in spite of the proof are not swayed by more proof…


    What I’m saying is that you might wish to “aim” your comments at the readers rather than the posters of the non-science. I’m not criticising, only opining that perhaps your efforts are better spent addressing those whose minds can be changed by facts and rationality…

  • amphiox

    “Which was more scientific?”

    Err, the proper scientific response is to examine the claim, even if just briefly, before dismissing it or not dismissing it on its own merits. If the initial claim sounds crazy we may start from a position of greater skepticism, but there are quite a few of actual scientific facts that seemed crazy on first glance but turned out to be true (and not crazy in retrospect), so you still need to examine it.

    “Third, so-called “junk” DNA has been found to contain useful information (note – information) about processes such as gene regulation.”

    (Minor pedant mode) Some “junk” DNA has gene regulation information. But it appears right now that this is only a minority. Most of the “junk” DNA that we know enough about (and we are close to knowing enough to say with confidence that it really is “most”, ie >50%) are evolutionary relics – old functional sequences that mutated into oblivion because their function became unimportant, or they got duplicated and the duplicate took over, etc, or vestiges of ancient viral infections (which once had a function for the virus, but never for the host), or jumping genes, and other such stuff. There have been a few reported cases (very interesting ones) where such “fossil” junk DNA actually got used again later in evolutionary history for some other purpose, so it went from having useful information to no useful information to having useful (but different!) information again.

    “Besides, DNA is a sequence of amino acids; the ACGT letters were asigned by humans to try to make sense of the sequence of amino acids.”

    Nope! DNA is a sequence of nucleotides. The ACGT letters are the names of the four nucleotides (A=adenine, C=cytosine, G=guanine, T=thymine, I think). The nucleotides were discovered and named before the structure of DNA was determined, so the letters were NOT assigned solely to try and make sense of the sequence of “amino acids”, they were determined by the historical fact that the nucleotides already had names (RNA has uracil instead of thymine, so RNA codes are written ACGU). Combinations of 3 nucleotides correspond through the cellular machinery of translation to individual amino acids. These combinations may be arbitray, a result of the random “choice” of the first organism to use the code and inherited by all its descendents. Or not. Some argue that the specific triplet code – amino acid combinations are actually dependent on certain laws of chemistry and so were not random. I do not know if this debate has been settled to any degree of satisfaction, yet.

  • amphiox

    (More minor pedant mode)

    It is not unjustifiable to say that the portion of “junk” DNA that constitutes evolutionary relics DOES contain information.

    It may not be information that the organism uses, or information that has any relevance to its current biology, but it is still historical information about its ancestry, which has accumulated over nearly 4 billion years. We can (and do!) study it and learn something from it.

  • amphiox

    “I assure you that the body doesn’t care what those letters are.”

    The chemical properties of adenine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine (and uracil) are all different from one another and to some degree unique.

    So the body may not care what we call them, but it most certainly DOES care that there is an adenine there in that specific location and not a guanine, or a cytosine and not a thymine, or whatever.

    The degree to which it cares (from essentially irrelevant, to minor inconvenience, to lucky improvement, to catastrophic disadvantage, to rapid death) will, of course, vary with context.

  • scribbler

    The thought that DNA can be used as an effective means to store and retrieve huge amounts of computer data is laughable…

  • dahl scharwin

    The idea of a mutable computing architecture, muteputing, is pretty nice. It reminds me of cellular automata a bit. I can see the analogy with structures in the brain although I find it doubtful that these devices could come close to that level of connectivity. Also I think that it’s not so laughable to consider dna as this type of information processing too, although it has a peripheral chemical system supporting its computation so the comparison might not be so clear. However I can loosely conceive a chemical feedback loop modulated by dna with elements that could be considered either as memory or as logical operations. Talking about the memristor content of junk dna seems a quite a leap, even so. Also crop circles. I’m with Charanjeet.

  • Daniel Hazelton Waters

    You start with nothing and add absolute zero dimension. The most economical qubit! A simple circle has a infinite amount of information and it’s a hole whole universe. Another infinitely continuing number containing an entire existence is the ratio of self similarity Phi each power of which can be computed by adding the previous two.


  • Daniel Hazelton Waters

    When memristor electronics becomes available I wonder if it could be used to create a new system of logic. I would suggest maybe using the highest resistance state as 0 then some negative powers of phi until phi^0 and finally phi itself after that. You would have the values 0 and 1 to work with and the rest might apply to an efficient way of computing. The ease at which you can calculate the approximate value of phi is amazing. I mean I can even do it in my head! I am lacking knowledge on many levels but I think if you used phi as a base for logical operations it may have practical uses. I imagine having a huge database of phi to ever increasing precision as a reference for calculating any given power of phi and using memristors to represent them might lead to something.
    About my earlier post If there was nothing to begin with and it was to the nothing power 0^0 it would become 1^0 (at least in some schools of math) this is the first approximation of phi which could lead to the creation of the first dimension phi^1 but actually remains in dimensionless space for there is an infinite array of potential in the unstable void. everything is nothing and is all in every part. Not fact just conjecture though.


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