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Rice University

September 4, 2010 by staff 

Rice University, Researchers at Rice University released a new laboratory discovery this week that could one day become a new method for the manufacture of computer chips ultra-dense memory.

If the semiconductor industry technology markets, Rice and PrivaTran Inc., a small technology company in Austin working with her, could benefit financially.

A team of researchers from the laboratory of Professor James Tour Rice demonstrated a new way to create small memory cells called nanocrystal cables that are much smaller than the currently used inside memory chips and can be packed in three-dimensional matrices.

Tour said the breakthrough could be considerable commercial promise as the semiconductor industry looks for ways to put more information into a single chip.

PrivaTran worked in close collaboration with researchers at Rice to create working prototypes containing 1,000 memory elements. The prototypes are being tested.

“Everyone is excited,” said executive director Glenn Mortland PrivaTran. “When you can demonstrate a 1K (1000 bits) of memory in a wide desk,” people in the semiconductor industry to take note, he said. This is due to a technology that can expand to a prototype of this size has the potential to be further expanded too much larger memory devices.

The discovery could potentially be large but is small in size. The researchers have developed nanocrystal cables that are as small as five nanometers (five billionths of a meter) wide, which is much smaller than the critical dimensions of current next-generation chips.

PrivaTran are using technology in various projects with the support of the Army Research Office, the National Science Foundation, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Navy Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command.

Like many small businesses technology PrivaTran – which has 10 employees – is competing for federal funds through the Small Business Innovation Research / Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The company, which employs silicon designers and process engineers, Rice has been working with for three years.

PrivaTran to share intellectual property and patents jointly with Rice. The company and Rice will soon be talking to the memory chipmakers to measure interest in the commercialization of technology.

“If this is the right solution for the market, we could be sitting on top of a very promising technology,” Mortland said. “It’s good to see that something we have been working for three years in order to prove themselves.”

Mortland said the technology shows promise for both commercial ultra-dense memories and more specialized chips that are resistant to radiation from space and military use.

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