Sharath Sriram and his research team at RMIT have built an artificial memory cell that could one day function as the grey matter in a bionic brain.
Capable of mimicking the human brain and the way it stores information over the long term, the brain-like system can also “Learn”, simultaneously process and store multiple strands of information and is quick to retrieve information.
At its most advanced application, the tiny cell could replace humans in medical trials because the bionic brain could be “Programmed” to contain flaws such as dementia, allowing new medications to be tested.
More immediately, the memory cell can be used to create smarter computers, USB sticks with 16 times the capacity of existing memory sticks and self-drive vehicles capable of learning from their experiences on the roads.
“Our job is to make yesterday’s science fiction today’s reality,” Associate Professor Sriram said.
Though called an artificial memory cell, the materials it is made of are naturally occurring.
As a nano-devices researcher, Professor Sriram is interested in what happens to materials when they are scaled down and their behavior changes.
In the case of strontium titanate, he and his team managed to control the oxygen content to enable it to store information, the way grey matter stores information in the brain.
The memory cell is minuscule; between a few micrometers and four to five nanometers.
Unlike most scientists, “Gowning up” isn’t to protect him from the materials he is working with.
For his trouble turning science fiction into science fact, Professor Sriram was on Wednesday night honored with a “Science Oscar”, the Australian Museum Eureka Prize for an emerging leader.
It’s quite an achievement for a man who has only been in Australia for 12 years, during which time he has gained his PhD in electronic materials, built a research group from eight to 25 staff and now manages RMIT’s micro-nano research facility, where he is the founding deputy director.