IBM said its scientists made a breakthrough that could pave the way for a new class of non-volatile memory and logic chips, which would use less power than today's silicon-based devices.
Rather than using conventional electrical means that operate today's semiconducting devices, IBM's said its scientists discovered a new way to operate chips using tiny ionic currents, which are streams of charged atoms that could mimic the event-driven way in which the human brain operates.
Today's computers typically use semiconductors made with CMOS process technologies and it was long thought that these chips would double in performance and decrease in size and cost every two years.
But the materials and techniques to develop and build CMOS chips are rapidly approaching physical and performance limitations and new solutions may soon be needed to develop high-performance and low-power devices.
IBM said its research scientists showed that it is possible to reversibly transform metal oxides between insulating and conductive states by the insertion and removal of oxygen ions driven by electric fields at oxide-liquid interfaces.
IBM experiments showed that once the innately insulating oxide materials are transformed into conductors, they maintain a stable metallic state even when power to the device is removed.
This non-volatile property means that devices that take advantage of this phenomenon could be used to store and transport data in a more efficient, event-driven manner instead of requiring the state of the devices to be maintained by constant electrical currents.
"Going beyond today's charge-based devices to those that use miniscule ionic currents to reversibly control the state of matter has the potential for new types of mobile devices,” said Stuart Parkin , an IBM Fellow at IBM Research.
“Using these devices and concepts in novel three-dimensional architectures could prevent the information technology industry from hitting a technology brick wall," added Parkin.