For nearly 150 years, the known fundamental passive circuit elements were limited to the capacitor (discovered in 1745), the resistor (1827), and the inductor (1831). Then, in a brilliant but underappreciated 1971 paper, Leon Chua, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, predicted the existence of a fourth fundamental device, which he called a memristor. He proved that memristor behavior could not be duplicated by any circuit built using only the other three elements, which is why the memristor is truly fundamental.
Memristor is a contraction of "memory resistor," because that is exactly its function: to remember its history. A memristor is a two-terminal device whose resistance depends on the magnitude and polarity of the voltage applied to it and the length of time that voltage has been applied. When you turn off the voltage, the memristor remembers its most recent resistance until the next time you turn it on, whether that happens a day later or a year later.
It turns out that the influence of memristance obeys an inverse square law: memristance is a million times as important at the nanometer scale as it is at the micrometer scale, and it's essentially unobservable at the millimeter scale and larger. As we build smaller and smaller devices, memristance is becoming more noticeable and in some cases dominant.