Traditional computers process data in one area – the CPU – then pass it off to another section, such as a hard disk or solid state drive, for storage; but it’s not the most efficient way to do things.
In the brain, neurons have the ability to both process and store information. Engineers have tried to mimic this functionality, creating chips with logic-in-memory architecture, sometimes known as "memristors". The idea is that without the need to shuttle data around so much, we could make smaller and faster devices that chew up less energy.
The EPFL's new computer chip is made with a two-dimensional sheet of molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) that's just three atoms thick. Not only is this material’s ultra thinness perfect for shrinking devices down, but it makes a great semiconductor as well.
The new chip is what’s known as a floating-gate field-effect transistor (FGFET). Usually used in flash memory systems, such as SD cards, these transistors are good at retaining electric charges for long periods of time. MoS2 is particularly sensitive to these stored charges, allowing it to perform both logic and memory functions.
"Our circuit design can reduce the energy loss associated with transferring data between memory units and processors, cut the amount of time needed for computing operations and shrink the amount of space required. That opens the door to devices that are smaller, more powerful and more energy efficient", says Andras Kis, lead author of the study.