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Transparent 3D memory chips to replace flash drives

Posted: 29 Mar 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:3D memory  research  flash drives 

Researchers at Rice University have created a new 3D memory chips that are transparent, flexible enough to be folded like a sheet of paper, and capable of withstanding 1,000-degree Fahrenheit temperatures.

"Devices with these chips could retain data despite an accidental trip through the drier, or even a voyage to Mars. And with a unique 3D internal architecture, the new chips could pack extra gigabytes of data while taking up less space," said James M. Tour, Ph.D., who led the research team, while speaking at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

"These new chips are really big for the electronics industry because they are now looking for replacements for flash memory," he said. "Because of the way that the new memory chips are configured, namely with two terminals per bit of information rather than the standard three terminals per bit, they are much better suited for the next revolution in electronics—3D memory—than flash drives."

The chips were originally composed of a layer of graphene or other carbon material on top of silicon oxide, which has long been considered an insulator, a passive component in electronic devices. Originally, the researchers at Rice University thought that the amazing memory capability of the chips was due to the graphene. But, recently discovered that silicon oxide surface was actually making the memories.

"The transparency and small size of the new chips enables them to be used in a wide range of potential applications. Manufacturers could embed them in glass for see-through windshield displays for everyday driving, military and space uses so that not only is the display in the windshield, but also the memory. That frees up space elsewhere in the vehicle for other devices and functionalities."

Current touch screens are made of indium tin oxide and glass, both of which are brittle and can break easily. However, plastic containing the memory chips could replace those screens with the added bonuses of being flexible while also storing large amounts of memory, freeing up space elsewhere in a phone for other components that could provide other services and functions, said Tour.

"Alternatively, storing memory in small chips in the screen instead of within large components inside the body of a phone could allow manufacturers to make these devices much thinner."

Tour hopes to send the chips on a future mission in July 2012 to see how the memory holds up in the high-radiation environment of space.

The easy-to-fabricate memory chips are patented, and Tour is talking to manufacturers about embedding the chips into products.

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