SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY
Antimatter Might Just Fall Up
When it comes to antimatter,
what goes up doesn't necessarily come down. In a new study,
physicists weighed antimatter in an effort to determine how
this strange cousin of matter interacts with gravity.
Ordinary matter atoms fall down due to the pull of gravity,
but the same might not be true of antimatter, which has the
same mass as matter, but
opposite charge and spin.
Scientists wondered whether antimatter atoms would instead
fall up when pulled by gravity, and whether such a thing as
"In the unlikely event that antimatter falls upward, we'd
have to fundamentally revise our view of physics and rethink
how the universe works," Joel , Fajansa physicist at the
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, said in
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So long, transistor: 'Memristor'
In 1971, a physicist conceptualized the
existence of a fourth fundamental element in the electronic
circuit, besides the three that were already in use at the
His name was Leon Chua and he believed -- for reasons of
symmetry -- that an extra component could one day be
constructed to join the resistor, the capacitor and the
He called it "memristor", a portmanteau
of the words memory and resistor.
It took 37 years for our engineering abilities to catch up
with that idea: the first memristor was built by Hewlett
Packard in 2008.
And today, many
researchers believe it could spark a revolution in
that will change the world of electronics 03:39
From electrons to ions
Simply put, the
memristor could mean the end of electronics as we know it
and the beginning of a new era called "ionics".
developed in 1947, is the main component of computer chips.
It functions using a flow of electrons, whereas the
memristor couples the electrons with ions, or electrically
transistor, once the flow of electrons is interrupted by,
say, cutting the power, all information is lost. But a
memristor can remember the amount of charge that was flowing
through it, and much like a memory stick it will retain the
data even when the power is turned off.
This can pave
the way for computers that will instantly turn on and off
like a light bulb and never lose data: the RAM, or memory,
will no longer be erased when the machine is turned off,
without the need to save anything to hard drives as with
current technology. But memristors have another fundamental
difference compared with transistors: they can escape the
boundaries of binary code.
Like a brain
technology will be mostly used to create super-fast memory
chips that contain more data and consume less energy. This
alone would make regular computers much more powerful, but
down the line, the memristor could also take on the
is a Professor of electrochemical materials at ETH Zurich,
and she's working with IBM to built a memristor-based
machine within the next two years.
points out, function in a way that is similar to a human
brain: "Unlike a transistor, which is based on binary codes,
a memristor can have multi-levels. You could have several
states, let's say zero, one half, one quarter, one third,
and so on, and that gives us a very powerful new perspective
on how our computers may develop in the future," she told
CNN's Nick Glass. Such a shift in computing methodology
would allow us to create "smart" computers that operate in a
way reminiscent of the synapses in our brains.
Free from the
limitations of the 0s and 1s, these more powerful computers
would be able to learn and make decisions, ultimately
getting us one step closer to creating human-like artificial
So long, and thanks for all the code
based on silicon, a rigid material whose properties are used
to manage the flow of electrons, and thus information.
In 1975, Gordon
Moore, the co-founder of Intel, formulated a famous law
which states that the number of transistors in an electronic
circuit doubles approximately every two years.
This has so far
proven accurate and set the pace for the constant increase
in computing power, but the trend might soon come to an end.
There is a
physical limit to the number of transistors that we can pack
on a chip, and we are already approaching the
miniaturization threshold of this technology. It is
inevitable that, one day, we will need to move away from
silicon based computing.
technology is a candidate for this crucial step: "It could
mean the end of the silicon era, giving us lower power
consumption, the ability to compute more information,
increased data storage and completely new logic patterns for
our computers," says Rupp. Memristors don't require a
silicon layer and different materials can be used as a
substrate. This could create a new class of microchips, that
could eventually be integrated in everyday items such as
windows, clothes or even coffee cups.
The race is on
manufacturing the first ever memristor, Hewlett Packard has
been working for years on a new type of computer based on
the technology. According to plans, it will launch by 2020.
"The Machine", it uses "electrons for processing, photons
for communication, and ions for storage."
"I think there
is a race going on," says Rupp. "There is a strong driving
force, but at the same time it's very important that there
are players like HP, because they want to get to the market,
show everyone that this is real."
At the moment,
manufacturing costs are still high, but the benefits are
worth it: "memristors operate at a lower power consumption,
with a faster speed, and with a higher volume density of
information than anything we have based on silicon microchip
transistors," Rupp told CNN. Much like a particle in
the realm of physics, the existence of the memristor was
theorized long before we could actually build one.
Now that we have that capability to manufacture it, the
"missing fourth element" of electronics -- despite its less
than catchy name -- might be the key to many further human
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