Medicine bottles that alert you when a prescription needs updating and computer screens which can be rolled up to fit in a briefcase are a step closer thanks to research by De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).
Researchers at DMU's Emerging Technologies Research Centre (EMTERC) are exploring the potential of gold nanoparticles and small molecules to create memory chips that are so flexible they can be used in paper and clothing.
Tests at DMU have shown the nanoparticles can be charged when an electric field is applied and retain that charge when the field is taken away. This ability is essential for use in memory devices as it allows information to be stored in the form of charged and uncharged particles.
Nanoparticles are part of the growing research area of organic electronics which, unlike traditional electronics, uses carbon-based materials.
Organic electronics can be produced at low-cost, are able to be made in room temperature conditions, rather than using very expensive techniques that involve high temperatures, and can be bonded to flexible materials, such as paper and very thin plastic - these materials are known as substrates.
Dr Shashi Paul, Head of EMTERC, led the research, which was funded by £207,000 from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Dr Paul said, "The use of gold nanoparticles could be an essential step towards the mainstream adoption of organic electronics, as they are commercially readily available and do not oxidise or rust, unlike other nanoparticles which have been tested, such as iron. Conventional electronics have manufacturing steps at very high temperatures - sometimes up to 1,000oC, or greater - and these processes are extremely energy intensive and therefore expensive. Organic materials can be processed at room temperature and so require considerably less energy. It also means they can be used with cheap and flexible plastic substrates, which would melt in conventional silicon, high-temperature processing steps."
Dominic Prime, whose work on the project as a PhD student was supported by the National Physical Lab and the EPSRC, added, "Silicon-based devices are brittle and can easily be broken if they are bent. This makes them less robust and harder to put in everyday objects. Organic electronics can be applied to cheaper materials, such as plastic or paper, and can withstand being bent without breaking. This means they can be used to make foldable or rollable devices, or integrated into things such as clothing."
A paper on the research has been published in the Virtual Journal of Nanoscale Science and Technology, as well as Applied Physics Letters.
Entitled First Contact-Charging Phenomena in Gold Nanoparticles by Electrostatic Force Microscopy, it looks at the electronic charging phenomena in gold nanoparticles.
The Emerging Technologies Research Centre was set up in 1995 to carry out fundamental and applied research in microelectronics, including nanotechnology.
EMTERC carries out internationally-leading research and teaching at the forefront of micro and nano electronics. The multidisciplinary team has expertise in materials, devices, circuitry and reliability.
Nanoparticles are 10,000 smaller than the diameter of the human hair and by understanding their charging mechanism it is possible to make new types of computer memories, solar cells and other electronic devices.
There is currently a large amount of research into their use in the semiconductor and electronics industry; however, they also have uses in many far-reaching applications such as self-cleaning windows, anti-graffiti paints, ultra-hard coatings, cosmetics and targeted drug delivery in healthcare.
Source: De Montfort University