Making powerful magnetic memory devices possible on flexible platforms

Making powerful magnetic memory devices possible on flexible platforms

Top left insert: Optical images of the magnetic memory devices after the transfer onto a flexible plastic platform with a schematic diagram of individual memory unit. Bottom left insert: The versatility of the platform transfer process. Optical images of magnetic memory devices transferred onto a flexible platform. Main photograph: Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo holding a piece of flexible material with magnetic memory devices transferred onto it.

Magnetoresistive Random Access Memory (MRAM) is emerging as the next big thing in data storage. It is a relatively new technology, but it has so many advantages that it may became a leader in memory storage.

What is MRAM? It is a type of non-volatile RAM which uses magnetic states to store data. This means that data can be retrieved even when the electronic equipment or device is not powered up, and this is MRAM’s key advantage. To do this, a magnesium oxide (MgO)-based magnetic tunnel junction (MTJ), which is a key building block of MRAM, will store each bit of the data information.

Today, MgO-based MTJ devices have been fabricated mostly on rigid and flat platforms. Flexible magnetic memory devices have recently received a lot of attention because they are an important component of various emerging applications such as wearable smart devices and biomedical sensors, which require important functions like wireless communication, data storage, and code processing. However, the ability to produce flexible magnetic memory devices on soft platforms without sacrificing performance is a challenge.

The NUS Electrical and Computer Engineering team, led by Associate Professor Yang Hyunsoo, was able to overcome this challenge. In collaboration with Yonsei University in Korea, Ghent University in Belgium, and the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), the NUS team was able to do this by adopting the transfer printing approach, which allows the fabrication of MTJs on various flexible surfaces such as plastic, glass, metal foil, and rubber, whilst controlling the amount of strain that might be placed on these surfaces. This research discovery has enabled the NUS Engineering team to realise the potential to develop high performance flexible magnetic data storage devices.

Associate Professor Yang and his team developed a flexible magnetic memory structure that is important to development of the next generation MRAM chip, and it could potentially be applied to enhance user’s experience in consumer electronics, such as laptops and mobile devices. This innovative technology could also be used in automobile, transportation, military and avionics systems; industrial motor control and robotics; industrial power and energy management, as well as health care electronics.

The NUS Engineering research team has received US and Korea patents for their new technology. Not resting on their laurels, the team has started planning the next phase of their research, where they hope to apply the invented structure in memory cells, and are looking for industry partners to develop a flexible MRAM.

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