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As CMOS approaches the atomic scale, a molecular-sized shape-changing memory technology is being perfected that reversibly changes the crystalline-lattice structure of molybdenum ditelluride. The approach, which requires only a few atoms to store ones and zeroes as shapes, could enable solid-state memories that store mechanical qualities and match the scale of future atomic-level processors, according to professor Xiang Zhang at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is director of materials science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The technology uses electron injection — not to encode the memory as charge, spin, or any ephemeral quantity, but rather to change the crystalline lattice structure of MoTe2 in a reversible process. Rearranging the atomic structure via electrical stimulation changes the material’s properties, thus allowing ones and zeroes to be formed and sensed using far less energy than is required for shifting chemical properties or for thermally induced transitions, as in phase-change memories, according to Zhang.

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