PerspectiveMaterials Science

Primed to Remember

Science  22 Jun 2012:
Vol. 336, Issue 6088, pp. 1515-1516
DOI: 10.1126/science.1223365

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Human memory can be primed. Expose the brain, even unconsciously, to a word or object, and in subsequent exposures, the memory synapses are faster, and more details are remembered for longer times (1). Why not do the same with the electronic memories in our computers, phones, digital cameras, and game consoles? On page 1566 of this issue, Loke et al. (2) show that writing speeds in next-generation electronic memory—ones based on changing a material's phase from a crystal to a glass—have increased substantially through a preswitching incubation process. This priming enabled them to break the 1-ns barrier for electronic switching. On page 1561, Nam et al. (3) remarkably provide images and recordings of the electronic changes that occur in memory cells only a few nanometers in size that allow us to watch the switching mechanism. Both of these studies provide valuable information on the physics of phase-change memory (PCM) and also clues on how this technology could change computer architectures.