Scientists create transparent memory chip

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Scientists create transparent memory chip

Seoul (Korea) – A group of scientists at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) claims it has created an “almost completely clear” transparent resistive random access memory (TRRAM). We have not seen an image of this chip yet, but if it is true, it would be the first transparent computer chip we know of.

Research in transparent electronic devices have been an ongoing topic for at least a decade, but actual results have been limited to individual components like transistors so far. The KAIST team has achieved something unique by apparently creating an entire chip that is transparent.

The TRRAM chip is based on the relatively young RRAM technology, which is developed by companies such as Fujitsu, Samsung, Micron and Spansion as a non-volatile memory technology with the goal to replace flash at some point in the future. Whether it can replace flash is unclear as several potential flash replacement candidates were announced in the past, only to quietly disappear again. Flash is still going strong and RRAM will have to compete with technologies such as PRAM and MRAM for a spot in the future memory market. Hewlett-Packard was one of the first companies to announce the intention to use RRAM in its products in July of this year.

The KAIST team said that its TRRAM device is based on an ITO (indium tin oxide)/ZnO/ITO capacitor structure and provides a transmittance of 81% in the “visible” region of the chip. The data retention timeframe is expected to be about 10 years. To achieve transparency within the chip, the group took advantage of the RRAM’s metal oxide materials, which are very transparent by default. The chip was created by sandwiching these metal oxide materials between equally transparent electrodes and substrates, the researchers said.

While clear electronics may be attractive, there seems to be little interest in this technology in general.

In March of 2003, researchers at Oregon State University built the world’s first transparent transistor and hoped that the technology would transform the chip industry. Back then, it was believed that electronics in window glass may appear soon and LCDs would get new functions supported by transparent chips.

We have not seen much of that yet, but the KAIST researchers are optimistic that their discovery could jumpstart a new wave of electronics – clear electronics that may make your room or wall appear more spacious by allowing electronic devices to be consolidated and stacked in small clear spaces.  The technology may also enable the development of clear computer monitors and televisions that are embedded inside glass or transparent plastic, the researchers said.    

The KAIST findings are published in the December 3, 2008 issue of Applied Physics Letters (Volume 93, Issue 22).