In a manner analogous to that of a brain, researchers have developed the first-ever tangible substance that is capable of “remembering” its complete history of the many physical stimuli it has been exposed to.
During their investigation into the phase transitions of vanadium dioxide (VO2), a substance that is used in electrical devices, the research team from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland came upon the extraordinary characteristic by accident.
Mohammad Samizadeh Nikoo, a student working on his PhD, was trying to determine the amount of time it takes for VO2 to shift from one state to another. However, he quickly became aware that something that had never been seen before was occurring when an electric current was applied.
According to the findings presented in their study, a group of researchers from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, headed by electrical engineer Mohammad Samizadeh Nikoo, said: “Here we report electronically accessible long-lived structural states in vanadium dioxide that can provide a scheme for data storage and processing.”
“The current moved across the material, following a path until it exited on the other side,” Mr Samizadeh Nikoo said.
“As the current heated up the sample, it caused the VO2 to change state. And once the current had passed, the material returned to its initial state.”
The researcher noticed, after applying a second electrical current as part of the experiment, that the amount of time it took for the material to change state seemed to be closely tied to its history.
“The VO2 seemed to ‘remember’ the first phase transition and anticipate the next,” said Professor Elison Matioli, who supervised the research.
“We didn’t expect to see this kind of memory effect, and it has nothing to do with electronic states but rather with the physical structure of the material. It’s a novel discovery: no other material behaves in this way,” he added.
The revelation could have significant repercussions for technological advances in the field of electronics, particularly those that depend on memory to carry out computations.
The researchers believe that if the memory effect became an inherent quality of the material itself, it would be possible to improve the capacity of electronics, as well as their speed, and eventually bring about a reduction in their size.
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