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Researchers beef up flash memory with protein

Protein molecules, or peptides, automatically arrange themselves, making it easier to create memory at the molecular level

October 3, 2013 03:07 PM ET

Computerworld - Researchers at universities in Taiwan and Japan have created what they say is the first three-dimensional flash memory device made with protein.

Scientists at National Chiao Tung University in Taiwan and the Nippon Institute of Technology in Japan said they used nanoparticles of a metal oxide semiconductor as the charge storage node for the flash memory device, binding them together with proteins' biochemical functionality.

By using proteins or peptides -- chains of amino acids -- to arrange nanoparticles, the scientists were able to create more dense memory, along with more complex, multilayer electronics with less effort.

According to the science publication C&EN, the memory devices could sustain more than 10,000 write-erase operations, akin to what today's best consumer-grade memory offers.

The peptides (or proteins) basically became the superstructure that bind layers of semiconductor and resistive materials in a stacked or 3D configuration. The protein molecules have the native ability to self organize, or to automatically construct the memory substrate.

"Peptide [binders] that target inorganic materials have inspired remarkable advances in engineering during the past decade, particularly with bottom-up fabrication at the nanometer scale," the researchers wrote their paper, which was published in the scientific journal Langmuir.

"The goal of biofunctionality-assisted fabrication is the self-organization of nanoscale building blocks to allow downsizing of large-scale integration technology," it went on to state. "The sophisticated ability of biomolecules to self-organize in the nanometer regime has encouraged us to fabricate hierarchical nanoarchitectures using the automated molecular interactions of functional biomolecules."

Biomemory
To construct the memory, the researchers begin by laying down a nanolayer of silicon topped with a layer of protein ferritin. Next a layer of iron oxide is added topped with silicon oxide By repeating these binding and mineralization cycles, multilayered structures are fabricated. After it's constructed with the help of self-organizing protein, the researchers expose the substrate ultraviolet light and ozone, leaving behind uniform layers of iron oxide nanoparticles in silicon oxide.

Technically, while proteins are always peptides, peptides are not always proteins. Proteins are long chains of amino acids, while peptides are constructed of shorter chains.

The researchers said using a biological method of binding the memory nodes together is less expensive than traditional silicon construction of memory because the protein molecules literally self-assemble. That allows researchers to, with little effort, construct memory on the molecular level, and with greater precision than traditional methods using silicon lithography.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter@lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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