A groundbreaking development in computing storage, capable of operating at temperatures so high that rock begins to melt, promises to enable computers to function in the harshest environments on Earth and even on Venus for the first time.

Current non-volatile memory (NVM) devices, such as solid-state drives (SSDs), fail at temperatures of 572 degrees Fahrenheit (300 degrees Celsius). However, scientists have now developed a new ferroelectric diode—a semiconductor switching device—that remains functional for hours at a staggering 1,112 degrees Fahrenheit (600 degrees Celsius). This advancement means that sensors and computing devices using this diode can be used in extreme environments, such as nuclear plants, deep-field oil and gas exploration, and our solar system’s hottest planet, where previous devices would fail within seconds.

The NVM device, detailed in a paper published on April 29 in the journal Nature Electronics, utilizes a material called ferroelectric aluminum scandium nitride (AlScN). This material represents the forefront of material science, having only recently become a viable option for high-performance semiconductors in the past five years.

The device is based on an AlScN diode measuring just 45 nanometers thick, 1,800 times thinner than a human hair. “If it’s too thin, the increased activity can drive diffusion and degrade a material,” said Dhiren Pradhan, a postdoctoral researcher in electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. “If too thick, there goes the ferroelectric switching we were looking for, since the switching voltage scales with thickness and there is a limitation to that in practical operating environments. So, my lab and Roy Olsson’s lab worked together for months to find this Goldilocks thickness.”

One of the most notable findings was that the devices could withstand one million read cycles and maintain a stable on-off ratio for over six hours. This result was described in the paper as “unprecedented.”

Building on existing research into semiconductors capable of extreme temperature operation, this new memory device could be combined with a processor to create computers that can function almost anywhere. “From deep-earth drilling to space exploration, our high-temperature memory devices could lead to advanced computing where other electronics and memory devices would falter,” said Deep Jariwala, associate professor of electrical and systems engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. “This isn’t just about improving devices; it’s about enabling new frontiers in science and technology.”

The researchers also suggested that a new era of non-silicon computing devices might emerge, integrating memory and processing closer together for data-heavy tasks such as artificial intelligence (AI). “Conventional devices using small silicon transistors have a tough time working in high-temperature environments,” Jariwala added. While silicon carbide technology is currently used, it is much slower than natural silicon in terms of processing power, and data-heavy computing cannot currently take place in harsh environments.

The team believes that by combining heat-resistant memory and processors into an ultra-dense package, AI processing in extreme conditions on other planets could finally become a reality.

By Impact Lab