Fair warning. This article is a little bit technical. And I'll do my best to keep it understandable for the ‘normal'. In April 2008, R. Stanley Williams of HP Labs announced the discovery of the memristor. If the term memristor is alien to you, don't feel bad. It has been only a theory in electronics, waiting to be discovered. It is the 4th and final type of electronic component that has proven elusive. All the stuff you use in electronics, from TV, radio, computers and more are all based on the use of resistors, capacitors and inductors. So the discovery of the elusive memristor proved quite exciting in certain circles.
I had brought up the announcement of the memristor to a mail list of fellow geeks. I asked them if this was a ‘big deal' as I thought it was (Really BIG). Almost everyone agreed this is in fact, huge.
Backing up a little, Leon Chua at the University of California (Berkeley) wrote an IEEE paper in 1971, he used mathematics to deduce the existence of a fourth circuit element type after resistors, capacitors and inductors, which he called a memristor, Chua came up with that name because it "remembers" changes in the current passing through it by changing its resistance. As a user of electronics we benefit Chua says "This new circuit element solves many problems with circuitry today--since it improves in performance as you scale it down to smaller and smaller sizes. Memristors will enable very small nanoscale devices to be made without generating all the excess heat that scaling down transistors is causing today."
So for us it means smaller devices that are more powerful, while using less power.
The theory is just that until someone actually builds something. And HP Labs have done that. The RRAM (resistive random-access memory) is expected to be a commercial product in a matter of months. This memory "remembers" its state without power, just like a USB thumb drive does. However, RRAM is currently much smaller in size and is already able to switch ‘on or off' in about 50 nanoseconds.
In short, it appears that another piece of "Star Trek" was right. What was off base is it taking 200 years to get there. This won't give us "warp speed" or "beam me up" (yet). And we really don't know what the ultimate outcome of the memristor will mean. The 1st practical application sure is exciting though. - Tcat Houser
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