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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Memristors: The Circle is Now Complete Mike Parks

Charles Duell, the commissioner of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office at the turn of the 20th-century was once misquoted as saying, "Everything that can be invented has been invented."  Thanks to an intrepid librarian it was later discovered that Duell actually stated, “In my opinion, all previous advances in the various lines of invention will appear totally insignificant when compared with those which the present century will witness. I almost wish that I might live my life over again to see the wonders which are at the threshold.”

I echo Mr. Duell’s sentiment with respect to the 21st century.  The advancement of the next 100 years will undoubtedly dwarf all that has come before.  Interestingly, in the world of electronics, one innovation that is on the cusp of reality was originally theorized in 1971 by circuit theorist Leon Chua.  Mr. Chua envisioned a fundamental circuit component (similar to the resistor, capacitor, and inductor) that he dubbed the “memristor”. The memristor is a passive, two terminal device that has variable resistance.  Its resistance varies based on the amount and the direction of the current flow that passes through it.  Interestingly, the memristor “remembers” its resistance even after it is disconnected from a powered circuit.

The Symmetry of Electronic Components. By Parcly Taxel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Practical implications of memristors are wide-ranging. Applied memristor research is underway at many companies, covering everything from improved neural network artificial intelligence to signal processing, control systems, higher density memory and storage, and even fundamental rethinking of CMOS transistors as the building blocks of computers. Perhaps the most interesting research being done is to use a memristor coupled with a capacitor to synthetically create a neuron of the brain.  This is being called a “neuristor”. In addition to the implications for artificial intelligence, neuristors have the potential to impact medical care as well. It is not inconceivable that neuristors may play some role in the emerging field of cybernetics that looks at how human and machine might form a tighter symbiotic bond.

Don’t start hacking body parts off just yet in hopes of becoming a real-life Darth Vader. Memristor and neuristor technology is still in its relative infancy; however, you might be able to purchase a memristor from Mouser sooner than you might think. After decades of theory and years of R&D, a company based out of Boise, Idaho called Bio Inspired Technologies announced the first commercially available discrete memristor in March 2015.

May the Force (and the Memristor) Be With You!

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Michael Parks, P.E. is the co-founder of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and embedded security research firm located in Western Maryland. He produces the Gears of Resistance Podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

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