". . .one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
Astronaut Neil Armstrong - First person on the Moon
A defining moment in history is a moment when something happens - and that something, when it happens, leaves the world changed forever.
"Watson! Come here! I need you!"
Alexander Graham Bell - Inventor of the telephone.
There is the moment when Alessandro Volta discovered how to create an electric battery for the first time. Or the time Hans Christian Oersted discovered the relationship between electricity and magnetism.
Or when Greg Simon Ohm developed the single, most fundamental, mathematical relationship in electricity and electronics; which for the first time allowed people to determine the exact relationship between voltage, current, and resistance - named "Ohm's Law" in his honor.
Or, more recently, when Dr. Lee De Forest discovered the three element electron tube; literally inventing the entire science of electronics at one stroke. Or when the Wright brothers made the first powered airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.; having created or discovered the fundamentals of aeronautical engineering, still in use to this day.
Each of these moments in time was a defining moment; leaving the world forever changed in its wake.
This year, in the April 8th, 2010 issue of the scientific journal Nature, scientists at Hewlett Packard reported the discovery of a fourth fundamental electrical component - the memristor - joining the resistor, capacitor, and coil as fundamental electrical components.
This discovery had been foreshadowed in 1971 by Professor Raymond Chua, at the University of California, Berkeley, who mathematically postulated the existence of this fourth fundamental component. Due to the lack of any techniques to create it, it has remained theory - a mathematical curiosity - until now.
Scientists working at Hewlett Packard accidentally stumbled upon this discovery while investigating some weird anomalies in certain nanometer scale semiconductor experiments they were doing.
Why is this important?
The discovery of a fourth fundamental electrical component - which does something none of the other three fundamental components can do - allows scientists and engineers to do things that, until this discovery, were either impossible or insanely impractical.
- True solid-state RAM for computers that takes micro-watts of power, is extremely fast, and never forgets what was written there, until changed. Computers might never need to be re-booted. You could shut your computer off right in the middle of doing something - restart it weeks, months, or even years later - and pick up exactly where you left off.
- Computer memory that is a tiny fraction of the size of current memory.
- Computer memory that can also do the job of the CPU chip.
- Extremely sophisticated analog computers now become possible.
- Because memristors behave in ways that are very similar to a neural synapse, it is now possible to do fundamental research in neural networking that was impossible before now.
What say ye?
Nature: Issue 464, pages 873-876 (8 April 2010) - http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7290/full/nature08940.html
ieee Spectrum: "The Mysterious Memristor" - http://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/design/the-mysterious-memristor
Tech Republic: "Memristors open new possibilities in storage and computing" - http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/datacenter/?p=2610