Effect of Cosmic Rays on Computer Memories

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Science  16 Nov 1979:
Vol. 206, Issue 4420, pp. 776-788
DOI: 10.1126/science.206.4420.776


A method is developed for evaluating the effects of cosmic rays on computer memories and is applied to some typical memory devices. The sea-level flux of cosmic-ray particles is reviewed and the interaction of each type of particle with silicon is estimated, with emphasis on processes that produce bursts of charge. These charge pulses are then related to typical computer large-scale integrated circuit components and cosmic-ray-induced errors are estimated. The effects of shielding (such as building ceilings and walls), altitude, and solar cycle are estimated. Cosmic-ray nucleons and muons can cause errors in current memories at a level of marginal significance, and there may be a very significant effect in the next generation of computer memory circuitry. Error rates increase rapidly with altitude, which may be used for testing to make electronic devices less sensitive to cosmic rays.

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