Related topics

Chemist Unveils Prototype of 1-Trillion-Bit Computer Memory Cube

April 30, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Scientists have developed a three-dimensional computer memory that ultimately might be able to store the contents of 400,000 books or 3,000 personal computers on a piece of plastic smaller than a sugar cube.

Peter Rentzepis, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Irvine, announced the Pentagon-financed development of a prototype ″memory cube″ when he spoke Tuesday during the Materials Research Society’s spring meeting in Anaheim.

So far, researchers have used laser beams to store only 1,000 bits - the basic unit of computerized information - inside the prototype. But the memory cube ultimately could store 1 trillion bits of data, Rentzepis said during a telephone interview.

However, years of work are required to improve the new memory system so it can be commercially available in computers, he added.

If researchers are successful, the cheap, lightweight and super-compact memory cube could vastly increase the capabilities of personal computers and allow much more sophisticated computers on military planes and weapons systems, Rentzepis said.

″It will be a fundamental breakthrough if this works and can be commercialized,″ said Marc Nussbaum, chief of technology at Western Digital, an Irvine-based computer components company. ″This is exciting. It’s within the realm of possibility.″

Computers now store their data in two-dimensional memories on disks or tapes. Many personal computers have hard disks that store 40 megabytes, or about 320 million bits, of information.

By storing information in three dimensions, a single 1 trillion-bit memory cube would store the same information as roughly 3,000 hard disks, Rentzepis said.

A single alphabet letter consists of eight to 16 bits, depending on the type of computer. Rentzepis said that assuming an average word has six letters and an average book has 50,000 to 100,000 words, 1 trillion bits of information equals the contents of roughly 100,000 to 400,000 books.

The prototype memory device is a polymer plastic cube. A material that chemically reacts to laser light is uniformly dispersed throughout the cube.

To store data in the cube, a laser beam is split into two parts, which enter the cube from different directions.

At the point where the two beams intersect, their light is absorbed, changing the material at that point in the cube from clear to blue. One blue spot or one clear spot each correspond to one bit of information.

Laser light also is used to retrieve or ″read″ information in the cube. A spot where information is stored will emit red light when hit by a laser beam. The light then is collected by detectors connected to a computer’s processors.

Much work remains to be done to make the memory cube live up to its potential, including finding faster ways to store information inside the cube and preventing the data from erasing itself at room temperature, as it does now, Rentzepis said.

The cube is easy to build and requires much less power than conventional computer memories. It was developed with a $1.4 million, three-year grant from the Air Force’s Rome Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

Update hourly