Researchers have created the smallest memory device yet, an advance that may lead to faster, smaller, and more energy-efficient electronic chips for consumer electronics and brain-inspired computing.

The scientists from the University of Texas at Austin in the US also found the physics that unlocks dense memory storage capabilities for these tiny devices.

In the research, published recently in the journal Nature Nanotechnology, the scientists reduced the size of what was then the thinnest memory storage device, shrinking the cross-section area down to just a single square nanometre.

According to the researchers, getting a handle on the physics that pack dense memory storage capability into these devices enabled them to make the device much smaller.

They said ultrasmall holes in the material provide the key to unlocking the high-density memory storage capability.

“When a single additional metal atom goes into that nanoscale hole and fills it, it confers some of its conductivity into the material, and this leads to a change or memory effect,” explained Deji Akinwande, a co-author of the study.

Though they used the compound molybdenum disulfide – also known as MoS2 – as the primary nanomaterial in their study, the researchers believe the discovery could apply to hundreds of related atomically thin materials.