2D Material Helps Next-Gen Computer Chip Store, Process Data Like Neurons

A team of engineers created a 2D computer chip capable of processing and storing data at once.
Brad Bergan

Engineers from EPFL have invented a new computer chip capable of storing and processing data within a single circuit, according to a recent study published in the journal Nature.

Composed of a 2D material known as molybdenum disulfide (MoS2), the next-gen computer chip opens the door for energy-efficient electronics on a smaller scale than ever seen before.


2D material lets next-gen computer chip store, process data at once

Typically, computers process data in one region — the CPU — and then pass it on to a different area, like the solid-state drive or hard disk for storage, New Atlas reports. But while this system has remained standard for decades, it isn't the most efficient way to run a computer.

For example, our brains — the world's most powerful computers — use neurons to process and store information at the same time. And in recent years, engineers have attempted to mimic this double-function with chips using logic-in-memory architecture — also known as "memristors."

The idea with this kind of chip is to remove the need to move data around enough to make smaller and faster devices — ones needing less energy than typical chips.

2D Computer Chip EPFL LANES
The ultra-thinness of the new chip is ideal for shrinking future devices. Source: EPFL / LANES

New 2D computer chip opens door to smaller, more powerful devices

The new study from EPFL moves us a few steps closer to this idea. The company's logic-in-memory chip is the first-ever composed of a 2D material — consisting of a single MoS2 layer and only three atoms thick. Additionally, the ultra-thinness of this material is ideal for shrinking devices down while also making for a wonderful semiconductor, reports New Atlas.

The new computer chip is technically known as a floating-gate field-effect transistor (FGFET), and is typically used for flash memory systems like SD cards. Such transistors are typically great at maintaining an electric charge for long durations. MoS2 is especially sensitive to stored charges, which means it can perform both memory and logic functions.

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"Our circuit design has several advantages," said Lead Author of the study Andras Kis. "It 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."

As the fourth industrial revolution nears, it's worthwhile to step back and imagine the future coming our way. Quantum computers with processing power capable of dwarfing the most advanced processors of today, at a scale small enough to enable new applications we have yet to even imagine. While this is a scary time to be alive, it's also the most exciting.