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NUS researchers develop brain-inspired memory device

A team of researchers led by the National University of Singapore have developed a brain-inspired molecular memristor that can be configured to perform a range of computing tasks

A team of researchers led by the National University of Singapore (NUS) have developed a novel molecular memristor, an electronic memory device, that can be configured to suit different types of computational tasks, paving the way for a new generation of chips in edge computing applications.

Many electronic devices today are dependent on semiconductor logic circuits based on switches which are hard-wired to perform predefined logic functions.

Inspired by the flexibility and adaptability of connections in the human brain, the molecular memristor can be reconfigured by changing applied voltages, according to Sreetosh Goswami, a research fellow at NUS’s department of physics, who came up with the idea.

“Furthermore, like how nerve cells can store memories, the same device can also retain information for future retrieval and processing,” Goswami added.

Associate professor Ariando from the NUS department of physics, who led the research, said the molecular memristor was a significant breakthrough in the design of low-energy computing and fundamentally reimagines how logic circuits are designed.

The research, which was published in Nature on 1 September 2021, was carried out in collaboration with the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the University of Limerick, the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M University.

Elaborating on the brain-inspired technology, NUS said the configurability of the molecular memristor was enabled by the use of a molecular system belonging to the chemical family of phenyl azo pyridines that have a central metal atom bound to organic molecules called ligands.

“These molecules are like electron sponges that can offer as many as six electron transfers resulting in five different molecular states. The interconnectivity between these states is the key behind the device’s reconfigurability,” said research team member Sreebrata Goswami who was a senior research scientist at NUS and previously professor at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science.

Energy-efficient devices

Building on the research, the team used the molecular memory devices to run programmes for different real-world computational tasks. As a proof of concept, the researchers demonstrated that their technology could perform complex computations in a single step and could be reprogrammed to perform another task in the next instant.

An individual molecular memory device could perform the same computational functions as thousands of transistors, making the technology a more powerful and energy-efficient memory option.

“The technology might first be used in handheld devices, like cell phones and sensors, and other applications where power is limited,” said Ariando.

The team is in the midst of building new electronic devices incorporating this innovation and working with collaborators to conduct simulation and benchmarking relating to existing technologies.

Other contributors to the research include Abhijeet Patra and Santi Prasad Rath from NUS, Rajib Pramanick from the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Martin Foltin from Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Damien Thompson from the University of Limerick, T. Venkatesan from the University of Oklahoma, and R. Stanley Williams from Texas A&M University.

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