Alex Ignatiev’s Computer Memory Research May Open Door to $100Billion Market
Demonstrating that University of Houston faculty are being recognized worldwide as leaders in their fields, Alex Ignatiev, director of UH’s Center for Advanced Materials, has been chosen for the position of World Class University (WCU) Professor by the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology (GIST) in South Korea.
Ignatiev’s WCU appointment is for a period of five years, during which time he will periodically visit GIST, interact with GIST students and faculty, bring Korean graduate students to UH for study and guide research efforts at GIST in resistive memory technology, a field opened by seminal research in Ignatiev’s research group at UH in 2000.
These research efforts in resistive memory have gained international attention and opened up a new field for research on materials that change their resistive state under the application of short electrical pulses. Such resistive devices do not lose their state when power is turned off, resulting in a non-volatile memory for use in the computer industry.
This opened up a whole new field in computer memory research called resistive memory and has resulted in research and development programs in about a dozen separate microelectronics companies, including Intel, Sharp, Samsung, HP, Fujitsu, Spansion and Unity, as well as research programs in more than 20 universities. UH receives research dollars from industrial collaborations on resistive memory, as well as holding three patents in the technology, with several of those patents bringing in royalties to UH.
Ignatiev’s research efforts in resistive memory gained international attention as the first identification of the effect and was recognized as a possible major paradigm-shifting technology for computer memory.
“The beauty of resistors, which are simply devices that control current in an electric circuit, is that they do not lose their state when power is turned off,” Ignatiev said. “The reason resistor memory was not used previously is that one would have to mechanically switch resistance to go from a low to a high value. Now, we have discovered this unique materials system that can be electrically activated at very high speed.”
Current memory storage includes magnetic memory, such as computer disc drives, and flash memory sticks that offer slow access. Ignatiev’s resistive memory technology is an improvement upon magnetic memory and flash memory sticks. While magnetic drives work well and store a lot of data, they are quite slow at about 100 microseconds to 1 millisecond access time, whereas the resistance memory is 10,000 times faster at about 10 nanoseconds. Flash memory sticks also are good, but sometimes even slower than magnetic drives. Ignatiev’s goal is to replace not only flash memory sticks, but all computer memory, which is a potentially $100 billion market.
“Initially, we will build strong research collaborations with GIST in the area of resistive memory through the exchange of graduate students,” he said. “This is projected to expand into other areas of nanotechnology materials, including energy storage materials and materials at the biological and physical interface.”
The Korean graduate students are then expected to bring their interest in learning to UH, where they will increase the cadre of talented graduate students at UH, as well as take the reputation of UH back to Korea, enhancing the worldwide recognition of UH as a science and technology leader.
Ignatiev will join seven other WCU Professors from Germany, Japan, Australia and the United States at a kick-off meeting in Gwangju this month to start outlining the program with political and university officials. A Distinguished University professor of physics, chemistry, and electrical and computer engineering at UH, Ignatiev passed an intense review process to earn this distinction. His research efforts in Korea will be supported by up to $200,000 a year in funding for five years.
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