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Electronic Component

The parts used in electronic devices such as computers that change electric current so it can carry information.

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Please Pass the Chips

Please Pass the Chips

Credit: Chris Sinjakli
Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45840494@N03/5368405044/
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

How handy would it be if you could turn on your laptop and it was ready to go in just a second? Electronic devices can’t do this now, but it’s likely that they will be able to in the near future. How? The answer lies with a new type of memory chip.

News You Can Use

  • Standard memory chips that have been in use for decades are made mostly of silicon. 
  • The new memory chips are made of phase-change materials (PCM). These are alloys that can change back and forth between crystalline and amorphous phases. The atoms of crystalline phase solids are arranged in a regular repeating pattern. The atoms of amorphous phase solids are arranged more-or-less at random. 
  • Why does it matter? The crystalline phase is a good electric conductor, but the amorphous phase is not. Using voltage pulses to produce heat causes PCMs to switch from the amorphous to the crystalline phase, or from off (0) to on (1). In this way, PCMs can encode digital electronic signals.
  • Watch the video at the following URL to see some of the advantages of using PCM chips in electronic gadgets. 


Can You Apply It?

With the links below, learn more about phase-change materials and their potential uses. Then answer the following questions.

  1. What are the advantages of PCM memory chips over the standard memory chips currently in use?
  2. How are phase-change materials able to store data even after the power is turned off?
  3. Phase-change materials are already used to store data on rewritable discs. However, until recently, they were not practical for use in cell phones and other portable electronic devices. Why? And how have researchers overcome this problem?
  4. Why does the PCM technology have the potential to be much faster than Flash?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: Chris Sinjakli; Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/45840494@N03/5368405044/; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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