How We Found the Missing Memristor

The memristor—the functional equivalent of a synapse—could revolutionize circuit design

18 min read
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artist’s conception of a memristor

Thinking Machine: This artist’s conception of a memristor shows a stack of multiple crossbar arrays, the fundamental structure of R. Stanley Williams’s device. Because memristors behave functionally like synapses, replacing a few transistors in a circuit with memristors could lead to analog circuits that can think like a human brain.

Bryan Christie Design
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It’s time to stop shrinking. Moore’s Law, the semiconductor industry’s obsession with the shrinking of transistors and their commensurate steady doubling on a chip about every two years, has been the source of a 50-year technical and economic revolution. Whether this scaling paradigm lasts for five more years or 15, it will eventually come to an end. The emphasis in electronics design will have to shift to devices that are not just increasingly infinitesimal but increasingly capable.

Earlier this year, I and my colleagues at Hewlett-Packard Labs, in Palo Alto, Calif., surprised the electronics community with a fascinating candidate for such a device: the memristor. It had been theorized nearly 40 years ago, but because no one had managed to build one, it had long since become an esoteric curiosity. That all changed on 1 May, when my group published the details of the memristor in Nature.

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Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg/Getty Images

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