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Dr. Stanley Williams on the finding of the memristor

IEEE has recently published online a new set of articles from IEEE Spectrum. Among those, there is a very interesting article written by HP Labs’ fellow researched Dr. Stanley Williams telling the story of how he and his team found the memristor – the fourth fundamental electronic component, predicted in theory more than 50 years ago by Dr. Leon Chua.

The topic received a considerable amount of attention a while ago, but most stories were short and superficial, roughly mentioning the discovery and its possibilities for the future. In his article, Dr. Williams gives us a little more insight on future memristor applications, of which I believe the most incredible is the possibility of emulating brains in silicon. As it is explained, current technology isn’t enough for that. However, memristor behave in a way which closely resemble synapses in the brain. That was noted even by Dr. Chua when he wrote the theoretical description of the component.

Altough the article is a bit long, I really believe it is worth reading. Dr. Williams explains what the memristor is and how it works using analogies which make it easy for the layperson to understand. There are some very interesting facts in the article which I had never heard of, such as that David Packard had the intention to build a long-term scientific research laboratory at HP in order to “return knowledge to the well of fundamental science from which HP had been withdrawing for so long”. That was actually done in 1995, and Dr. Williams was given at the occasion to choose whatever topic he wanted to research in his field, given that they could have something usable in 10 years.