University researchers have a long horizon, and they examine problems that won't affect our infrastructures, jobs, and lives for many years. Thanks goodness for that. It means there is a chance that there will be options and solutions when the problems become serious.
Take memory and storage. We all know that we need more and more of it. And we all want it to be smaller and faster and cheaper and easier to use and manage. That's a lot to ask, yet that's the way the human brain works -- we want it all.
It may not be impossible. As I wrote in a previous column, there is work going on in development labs and universities that explores fundamental technologies with the potential to transform business technology. In that column I highlighted work by the National Science Foundation in which a team of scientists has stored data for nearly two seconds in the nucleus of an atom. The NSF called it "ultimate miniaturization of computer memory" and a key step in the development of quantum computers. I also noted a report on "nanostructured storage domains," in which a team of German and Italian researchers were reportedly trying to increase storage capacity using nanopatterns of a spin-transition compound on silicon oxide chips. The development could lead the way to molecular storage media that stores data by "switching" the spin of electrons.
Now comes word from the University of Nottingham that researchers there are exploring ways of exploiting the unique properties of carbon nanotubes to create a cheap and compact memory cell that uses little power and writes information at high speeds.
A release issued by the university states that there may be a fundamental limit to how far we can shrink a transistor, since quantum phenomena may cause electrons to tunnel through the barriers between wires. To deal with these issues, a team from a wide range of university departments is working on a "nanodevices for data storage" project, which is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. The team is made up of researchers from the schools of chemistry, physics and astronomy, and pharmacy, and the Nottingham Nanotechnology and Nanoscience Centre.