NUS team's device scores a world first

The discovery by Associate Professor Yang and his team takes the technology a step closer to fully flexible electronic devices, which can be applied to car and healthcare electronics, industrial management and military systems.
The discovery by Associate Professor Yang and his team takes the technology a step closer to fully flexible electronic devices, which can be applied to car and healthcare electronics, industrial management and military systems.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

Creation of magnetic memory device that can bend could lead to wider use in various areas

Researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created the world's first magnetic memory device that can bend.

The innovation takes the technology a step closer to fully flexible electronic devices, which can be applied to car and healthcare electronics, industrial management and military systems.

Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo, from the university's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who led the team that made the discovery, said for devices to be fully flexible, all key parts need to be flexible.

"Before this, only screens were flexible. Our work is a milestone."

The aim of the research, he said, was to replace all existing memory formats, such as dynamic random access memory (Dram) and flash memory, with magnetoresistive random access memory (MRAM), especially in wearable technology.

MRAM is the lightest and fastest memory format currently in use.

"For example, flash memory's processing speed is 100 to 1,000 times slower than MRAM, and its capacity about 1,000 times lower."

The breakthrough, two years in the making, was achieved in collaboration with counterparts from Yonsei University, Ghent University and Singapore's Institute of Materials Research and Engineering.

It uses a new fabrication method, placing a magnetic memory chip on a plastic surface, instead of a rigid silicon base. "Typical silicon is half a millimetre thick. If it is bent a little, it will break. Plastic is much more flexible."

It is very difficult to make flexible Drams and flash memories because of the thickness needed to withstand the weight of the chips, said Prof Yang. "If the base is too thick, then it will break when bent."

He added that the next step is to look into the suitability of the technology for mass production.

"We are already in discussions with private firms, to discuss how best to apply the new technology."

Tech users are already excited at the prospect of having fully flexible electronic devices, though these things are still years away.

Musician Dhan Into, 42, said cellphones can get damaged when owners forget to take them out before sitting down. "Sometimes, we forget to take our mobile phones from our pockets when we sit. But if they can bend, then it's all right."

Full-time national serviceman Mohd Amirul Hanafi, 21, who cracked the screen of his cellphone by sitting on it, said flexible electronic devices would also be more convenient as they can save storage space.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2016, with the headline 'NUS team's device scores a world first'. Print Edition | Subscribe