You get discoveries like this one, that Ben (Hammer) sent to me over the weekend:
From the IEEE article:
1 May 2008—Anyone familiar with electronics knows the trinity of fundamental components: the resistor, the capacitor, and the inductor. In 1971, a University of California, Berkeley, engineer predicted that there should be a fourth element: a memory resistor, or memristor. But no one knew how to build one. Now, 37 years later, electronics have finally gotten small enough to reveal the secrets of that fourth element. The memristor, Hewlett-Packard researchers revealed today in the journal Nature, had been hiding in plain sight all along—within the electrical characteristics of certain nanoscale devices.
The original Nature article is here.
From the Nature article, here’s the “Gee, Pat, why the hell do I care about this?” quote:
They should be crucial in developing ‘non-volatile’ memory — the type that doesn’t decay when the power is switched off. Most computers use ‘volatile memory’ to perform their running functions, because this offers faster access to data than the non-volatile memory used to store data on hard disks and flash devices such as iPods. Building computers with memristors might allow a full switch to non-volatile memory, doing away with power-sapping ‘running memory’ and allowing devices to consume far less power when operating.
Of course, Hammer worried that I was going to put a security spin on it (and of course I am); having your computer remember its state all the time has a lot of security implications. But it’s been shown that this is already a problem, so that’s not news. We need to fix the bad security here anyway. The efficiency and power implications of this are enormous.
Leon Chua is a rare genius; someone whose discipline domain boundaries are very, very fuzzy. I came up with the title of the blog post to poke fun at Hammer, but this sort of cross-boundary thinking is something that mathematicians and scientists don’t do often enough either.