Information Technology

Smart Flexible Plastic Embedded with Powerful Magnetic Memory Chip

20 July 2016

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have just created a “smart” plastic that’s transparent and flexible. The novel material actually displays excellent performance in terms of data storage and processing capabilities.

This new invention brings the researchers closer to making flexible, wearable electronics even more of a reality in the near future.

Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo from the National University of Singapore demonstrates the flexibility of the memory chip. (Image Credit: National University of Singapore) Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo from the National University of Singapore demonstrates the flexibility of the memory chip. (Image Credit: National University of Singapore) This new soft memory chip will be a critical component in the design and development of flexible and lightweight devices with potential applications in the automotive, healthcare electronics, industrial motor control and robotics industries, as well as military and avionics systems.

While there has already been a lot of research conducted on different types of memory chips and materials, there are still challenges when it comes to creating high-performance memory chips on soft substrates that are flexible, without sacrificing performance.

To address the current technological challenges, the research team, led by Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the NUS Faculty of Engineering, developed a technique to implant a high-performance magnetic memory chip on a flexible plastic surface.

Their device runs on magnetoresistive random access memory, which uses a magnesium oxide-based magnetic tunnel junction to store data. This type of memory performs far better than conventional random access memory computer chips when it comes to the ability to retain data after a power supply is cut off, high processing speed and low power consumption.

The team used a transfer printing approach to implant the magnetic memory chip on a flexible plastic surface made of polyethylene terephthalate, while controlling the amount of strain caused by placing the memory chip on the plastic surface.

"Our experiments showed that our device's tunneling magnetoresistance could reach up to 300%—it's like a car having extraordinary levels of horsepower. We have also managed to achieve improved abruptness of switching. With all these enhanced features, the flexible magnetic chip is able to transfer data faster,” said Hyunsoo.

According to Hyunsoo, flexible electronics are poised to be a steady reality soon, and all new electronic components need to be compatible with the technology.

“We are the first team to fabricate magnetic memory on a flexible surface, and this significant milestone gives us the impetus to further enhance the performance of flexible memory devices and contribute towards the flexible electronics revolution,” said Hyunsoo.

The team was recently granted U.S. and South Korean patents for the technology and are conducting experiments to improve the magnetoresistance of the device by fine-tuning the level of strain in its magnetic structure. They are also planning to apply their technique to other electronic components as well as collaborate with industry partners to explore further applications of this novel technology.

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