To answer the question, researchers from Semiconductor Research Corporation and Micron Technology, both in the US, conducted several Gedanken or thought experiments for solid-state physical systems consisting of a small number of atoms.

Fundamental physical principals were used to analyse how the properties of the system vary by changing the position(s) of one or a few atoms. The two tasks explored in this study were: (i) change in resistance due to the addition or removal of a few atoms; and (ii) stability of a few-atom system.

Prospectus for tiny memory

These thought experiments offered insights on the effects of ultimate scaling on a number of parameters such as density, speed and retention. It was found that the resistive memory cell can, in principle, be scaled down to the volume of 3–4 nm3, which is considerably less than all memory devices based on the storing of electron charge.

The result shows that resistive memories are an attractive option providing that a number of materials and process issues are overcome.

Full details can be found in the journal Nanotechnology.