Computing at the speed of light

University of Victoria researcher has patented LI-RAM, a breakthrough technology that will make information-processing faster, more energy-efficient and durable.

April 17, 2017 09:51 pm | Updated 10:09 pm IST

LI-RAM (light-induced random-access memory) can imbue smartphones and personal computers with supercomputer speeds. | Getty Images

LI-RAM (light-induced random-access memory) can imbue smartphones and personal computers with supercomputer speeds. | Getty Images

If you've ever complained about your computer being too slow, or your Samsung smartphone exploding on your face, or your tech needs having too large a carbon footprint, this is the news you've been waiting for.

A Vancouver-based researcher has just patented, according to CTV News, a "breakthrough material that will make computing faster, more durable and more energy-efficient". A supercomputer, effectively.

Natia Frank, materials chemist at the Canadian University of Victoria (UVic), said the material, known as LI-RAM (light-induced random-access memory), would use light to store and process data. Not electricity. This means computer processors would consume minimal power, discharge minimal heat and last longer.

What makes LI-RAM sustainable?

Funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, this technology was developed in a bid to overcome the "power wall". On paper, it goes some way in succeeding at this — LI-RAM would use 10% less power as the prevailing standards, and process information faster.

Currently, information processing technologies use up about 10% of the world's electricity resource, according to UVic, which expects LI-RAM to cut this consumption by half.

What makes this technology unique?

Frank says the material in LI-RAM has the unusual quality of rapidly changing magnetic properties when hit with green light. According to a media release issued by UVic, “This means that information can be processed and stored at the single molecule level, allowing for the development of universal memory — a technology that has, until now, been hypothetical."

Range of applications

Besides its use for data storage in mobile phones, computers and other electronic durables, LI-RAM could come in handy "in medical imaging, solar cells, and a range of nanotechnologies".

How soon can we see it in action?

Frank filed a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) Patent Application along with Green Centre Canada. She is currently "working with international electronics manufacturers", and expects LI-RAM to be commercialised in 10 years.

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