Scientists created “smart” plastic may lead to flexible, wearable electronics

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Scientists have created a “smart” plastic by successfully embedding a powerful magnetic memory chip on a flexible, transparent material – a breakthrough that may lead to a new generation of bendable, wearable electronics. The smart plastic demonstrates excellent performance in terms of data storage and processing capabilities, researchers said. The novel invention by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS), will be a critical component for the design and development of flexible and lightweight devices. Such devices have great potential in applications such as automotive, healthcare electronics, industrial motor control and robotics, industrial power and energy management, as well as military and avionics systems. Flexible magnetic memory devices have attracted a lot of attention as they are the fundamental component required for data storage and processing in wearable electronics and biomedical devices, which require various functions such as wireless communication, information storage and code processing. Although a substantial amount of research has been conducted on different types of memory chips and materials, there are still significant challenges in fabricating high performance memory chips on soft substrates that are flexible, without sacrificing performance. Researchers led by Yang Hyunsoo, Associate Professor at NUS developed a novel technique to implant a high-performance magnetic memory chip on a flexible plastic surface. The device operates on magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM), which uses a magnesium oxide (MgO)-based magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ) to store data. MRAM outperforms conventional random access memory (RAM) computer chips in many aspects, including the ability to retain data after a power supply is cut off, high processing speed, and low power consumption. Researchers first grew the MgO-based MTJ on a silicon surface, and then etched away the underlying silicon. Using a transfer printing approach, the team implanted 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 tunnelling magnetoresistance could reach up to 300 percent,” said Hyunsoo. “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,” The research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.

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