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From the transistor to the “memristor”, the microchip of the future

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The transistor was the device that revolutionized the electronics industry in the middle of the last century; Seventy-five years later, some countries and various technological giants have already focused on the microchip of the future, although the name is not easy: “memristor”.

They can be used as gigantic “memories”, as artificial neural networks, as high-frequency switches or as encryptors; isolated or connected to each other to multiply their potential and benefits; and researchers are convinced that they will soon be integrated into all electronic devices (phones, tablets, televisions, vehicles or computers).

Countries like the United States are already investing amounts that researchers describe as “astronomical” in this technology, and others, like China, place the strategic importance of microchips on the same level as their nuclear program; the “memristors” will be the key to everything.

And one of the main researchers in the world of this revolutionary technology is the Spanish Mario Lanza, who currently develops his scientific and teaching activity at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology of Saudi Arabia (KAUST, for its acronym in English).

Mario Lanza has just published in the journal Science, together with researchers and technologists from several countries and some multinational companies that lead the microchip and semiconductor device sector, a paper in which they analyze this technology, the operation and applications of these devices, the potential they will have in all electronic systems and how they will contribute to accelerating computing in artificial intelligence.

How does a scientist who focuses all his work on this cutting-edge technology define “memristor”? As an electronic device that allows emulating states in a very small space and consuming very little energy; capable of performing the same functions as a transistor, but occupying much less space and with much lower consumption.

It is also the contraction of two English words (“memory” and “resistor” or resistance), and many companies and countries have seen in them the most accurate and effective solution to try to put an end to the “bottlenecks” that are currently strangling the industry.

The work directed by Mario Lanza is part of an initiative by Science magazine itself to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the invention of the transistor, the key element in the manufacture of chips and microchips and the basis of all electronic devices (telephones, computers, appliances, vehicles, or medical equipment).

The “memristors” make it possible to integrate billions of transistors on a single chip and will also serve to improve the performance of the gigantic artificial neural networks (sophisticated computer systems interconnected with each other to favor learning and automatic processing and that is inspired by the operation of the human brain).

Mario Lanza, speaking to GLM, referred to this device as “a Swiss army knife” that is going to revolutionize the design of integrated circuits, and has observed that numerous companies – Fujitsu, Panasonic, Intel, Micron or Everspin, among others – They are already marketing them as “electronic memory”, and others, such as IBM or the Taiwanese TSMC, are the most advanced in the use of these devices to implement artificial neural networks.

The researcher was convinced that this is going to be the key piece in all electronic technology and industry. “Because of their high electronic performance, their versatility, their simple manufacturing and low cost, these devices are destined to be integrated into all the microchips of the future,” he said.

Microchips “are the element on which modern civilization is based; the most sophisticated product manufactured by man,” according to Lanza, and he predicted that “memristors” will become one of the most powerful and decisive industries in recent years. coming years, although he also doubts that a single country can control all the elements needed to dominate the sector: “machines, raw materials and talent”.

And in this sense, the Spanish scientist pointed to the opportunities that may arise within the framework of the Strategic Project for the Recovery and Economic Transformation of the microchip (the so-called “PERTE Chip”) that the Spanish Government has approved, endowed with some 12,600 million dollars with the aim of turning Spain into a benchmark in the nanoelectronics and semiconductors sector.


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