Novel molecules could help flash memory move beyond its storage limits, allowing for massive amounts of data to be recorded in small spaces, according to European scientists.

Metal-oxide clusters that can retain electrical charge and act as RAM could form a new basis for data cells used in flash memory, the researchers from the University of Glasgow's Schools of Chemistry and Engineering and Rovira i Virgili University in Spain wrote in a letter published in Nature.

The group of 13 researchers said that polyoxometalate (POM) molecules can act as storage nodes for MOS flash memory. They used tungsten to synthesize POM metal-oxide clusters and added selenium to their inner cores, in a process known as doping, to create a new type of memory they call "write-once-erase."

The research addresses the limits of the size of data cells in flash memory, which is widely used in mobile devices such as smartphones, memory sticks and cameras.

The notion of using individual molecules to take the place of traditional flash memory components isn't new, but previous research has struggled with problems such as low thermal stability and low electrical conductivity. This has made it difficult to apply molecular models to MOS technologies.

The researchers wrote that realistic, industry-standard device simulations validated their approach at the nanometer scale, referring to objects with dimensions measured in nanometers. They added that POMs have the potential to be used as a realistic nanoscale flash memory.

"One major benefit of the POMs we've created is that it's possible to fabricate them with devices which are already widely used in industry, so they can be adopted as new forms of flash memory without requiring production lines to be expensively overhauled," Lee Cronin, a chemist involved in the research, said in a University of Glasgow release.