Indian-origin researcher designs ultrathin films that may help power IoT systems
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The rapid pace at which the Internet of Things segment is expanding will require nano-scale hardware architecture that involves miniaturising the transistors in computer chips and huge amounts of energy to store the vast amounts of data that will be generated. An Indian-origin researcher in Finland is working to overcome both these problems.

Sayani Majumdar, academy fellow at Helsinki's Aalto University, and her colleagues have designed organic ferroelectric films, which are only a few nanometre thick, sandwiched between two electrodes that can store data for a decade without power.

In a research paper published in the journal Advanced Functional Materials, Majumdar and her team said that the these electrode setups, where multiple materials can be used including silicon, can work with less than five volts of electricity and can retain data for more than 10 years without power and be manufactured in normal conditions.

This means it would eliminate the need for huge consumption of electricity by present-day data servers.

The research is significant given that an estimated 50 billion industrial sensors will come up by the end of 2020 as the IoT expands. A single IoT device will have the ability to produce more than one gigabyte of data per day, which will need tremendous hardware support to maintain. This means that either the current transistors in computer chips will need to be scaled down in size or force companies to spend a huge amount of energy in storing and analysing copious amounts of data.

The ferroelectric films can replace the building blocks for IoT systems and transcend as future components in what are called "neuromorphic" computers inspired by the human brain, according to the research paper.

Majumdar, a Calcutta University graduate, told science research portal ScienceDaily that the technology of neuromorphic computing is advancing more rapidly than its rival revolution, quantum computing.

"There is already wide speculation both in academia and company R&D about ways to inscribe heavy computing capabilities in the hardware of smart phones, tablets and laptops. The key is to achieve the extreme energy-efficiency of a biological brain and mimic the way neural networks process information through electric impulses," she said.

In her research paper, Majumdar said the junctions--thin films sandwitched between electrodes--her team has developed are made out of organic hydrocarbon materials and they would reduce the amount of toxic heavy metal waste in electronics.

"We can also make thousands of junctions a day in room temperature without them suffering from the water or oxygen in the air," Majumdar told ScienceDaily, adding that these films can be called 'memristors' when compared to transistors.

"What we are striving for now, is to integrate millions of our tunnel junction memristors into a network on a one square centimetre area. We can expect to pack so many in such a small space because we have now achieved a record-high difference in the current between on and off-states in the junctions and that provides functional stability," says Majumdar. "The memristors could then perform complex tasks like image and pattern recognition and make decisions autonomously."

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