Magazine article Science News

Digital Memory Gets Hot, in Theory: Controlled Heat Flow May One Day Store Computer Data

Magazine article Science News

Digital Memory Gets Hot, in Theory: Controlled Heat Flow May One Day Store Computer Data

Article excerpt

Someday, computers might store information using not only electric charges or magnetism, but also tiny packets of heat called phonons. Such heat-based memory is theoretically possible, new research shows. What's more, this memory would be durable and could be read without destroying the information--two key requirements for useful data storage.

Circuits based on quantum packets of heat rather than electric charges could enable computers to use waste heat to perform computations and store data, scientists report online December 29 in Physical Review Letters. A recent surge of research on the physics of controlling the flow of heat packets has yielded designs for heat-based diodes, transistors and logic gates that perform AND, OR and NOT operations.

"This is a promising field" says Baowen Li, a physicist at the National University of Singapore who, with his colleague Lei Wang of the Renmin University of China in Beijing designed the thermal memory. Heat-based circuits are "not only an alternative way for information processing, but a new science and technology in controlling heat flow. This, we believe, will revolutionize our daffy use of heat and can help human beings save energy and live in a more environmental world."

Unlike the electrons in an electric circuit, phonons in a thermal circuit are not actually particles. Instead, phonons are discrete units of vibration among the atoms in a solid. The stronger these vibrations are, the hotter the solid will be. Phonons travel through heat-conducting materials just as electrons travel through electrical conductors.

In the new work, Li and Wang did not actually build a heat-based memory device. …

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