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Korean expert discovers way to ramp up chip storage capacity 1,000 times

Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology’s professor Lee Jun-hee (Samsung Electronics)
Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology’s professor Lee Jun-hee (Samsung Electronics)

A South Korean research team has discovered a way to ramp up the storage capacity of memory chips by 1,000 times, while raising the possibility of utilizing 0.5 nanometer process technology, the Ministry of Science on ICT announced Thursday.

Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology’s Energy and Chemical Engineering professor Lee Jun-hee and his team have published a report on the discovery to international academic journal Science, winning attention from peers and the semiconductor industry.

The latest discovery by the UNIST team, funded by Samsung Science and Technology Foundation, would enable chipmakers to manufacture smaller chips or expand the data storage capacity by 1,000 times by applying a new physical phenomenon.

Lee found a process that could control individual atoms in semiconductor materials and provide a breakthrough for the limit of further increasing storage in microchips and downsizing chip domains.

Domain refers to a group of thousands of atoms that travel together to store data in the form of binary numbers or signals.

Due to the domain’s characteristics, it has been hard to downsize the manufacturing process technology from the current 10-nm level for memory chips, while keeping the storage capacity.

The Korean team found that by adding a drop of electrical charge to semiconductor material known as ferroelectric hafnium oxide, or HfO2, it is possible to control four individual atoms to store 1 bit of data.

When properly applied, a flash memory model can store 500 terabits per square centimeter, 1,000 times bigger storage than flash memory chips that are currently available.

The ICT Ministry said the latest finding could also pave the way to develop half-nanometer manufacturing process technologies, which might be a ground-breaking achievement for the semiconductor industry that has been facing technological limits with the current 10-nm technology.

“The technology enabling storing data in individual atoms is the highest-level storage technology on earth, which does not split atoms,” Lee said. “The technology is expected to help accelerate efforts to further downsize semiconductors.”

By Shim Woo-hyun (