Generally when most people think about electronics, they may initially think of products such as cell phones, radios, laptop computers, etc. others, having some engineering background, may think of resistors, capacitors, etc. which are the basic components necessary for electronics to function. Such basic components are fairly limited in number and each having their own characteristic function.
Memristor theory was formulated and named by Leon Chua in a 1971 paper. Chua strongly believed that a fourth device existed to provide conceptual symmetry with the resistor, inductor, and capacitor. This symmetry follows from the description of basic passive circuit elements as defined by a relation between two of the four fundamental circuit variables. A device linking charge and flux (themselves defined as time integrals of current and voltage), which would be the memristor, was still hypothetical at the time. However, it would not be until thirty-seven years later, on April 30, 2008, that a team at HP Labs led by the scientist R. Stanley Williams would announce the discovery of a switching memristor. Based on a thin film of titanium dioxide, it has been presented as an approximately ideal device.
The reason that the memristor is radically different from the other fundamental circuit elements is that, unlike them, it carries a memory of its past. When you turn off the voltage to the circuit, the memristor still remembers how much was applied before and for how long. That’s an effect that can’t be duplicated by any circuit combination of resistors, capacitors, and inductors, which is why the memristor qualifies as a fundamental circuit element.
The arrangement of these few fundamental circuit components form the basis of almost all of the electronic devices we use in our everyday life. Thus the discovery of a brand new fundamental circuit element is something not to be taken lightly and has the potential to open the door to a brand new type of electronics. HP already has plans to implement memristors in a new type of non-volatile memory which could eventually replace flash and other memory systems.