Silicon oxide has long played the sidekick, insulating electronics from damage, but scientists at Rice University have just discovered the dielectric material itself could become a fantastic form of storage. Replacing the 10-nanometer-thick strips of graphite used in previous experiments with a layer of SiOx, graduate student Jun Yao discovered the latter material worked just as well, creating 5nm silicon nanowires that can be easily joined or broken (to form the bits and bytes of computer storage) when a voltage is temporarily applied. Considering that conventional computer memory pathways are still struggling to get to 20nm wide
, this could make for quite the advance in storage, though we'll admit we've heard tell of one prototype 8nm NAND flash chip
that uses nanowires already. Perhaps it's time for silicon oxide to have a turn in the limelight.