Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are developing memory chips with the ability to bend and twist. The July 2009 issue of IEEE Electron Device Letters reports that the engineers have found a way to build a flexible memory component out of inexpensive, readily available materials (see the figure).
Though not yet ready for the marketplace, the new device is promising for its potential applications in medicine and portable electronics. Small medical sensors that can be worn on the skin to monitor heart rate or blood sugar could benefit patients with conditions that require constant maintenance, for example. Though some flexible components exist, creating flexible memory has been a technical barrier, according to NIST researchers.
To create the flexible memory, researchers took polymer sheets—the sort that transparencies for overhead projectors are made from—and experimented with depositing a thin film of titanium dioxide, an ingredient in sunscreen, on their surfaces. Instead of using expensive equipment to deposit the titanium dioxide as is traditionally done, the material was deposited by a sol gel process, which consists of spinning the material in liquid form and letting it set, like making gelatin. By adding electrical contacts, the team created a flexible memory switch that operates on less than 10 volts, maintains its memory when power is lost, and still functions after being flexed more than 4000 times.
View a video about the flexible memory on the NIST YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/usnistgov.