Sensory memory: Plastic flash memory cells were combined with a rubber pressure sensor. The impressions made by a roll of tape and by fingers (left) are retained entirely after 20 minutes (middle). After 12 hours (right), the data begins to degrade.
“The attractive feature of organics would be the cost,” says Victor Zhirnov, a program manager at the Semiconductor Research Corporation, a consortium of United States chip manufacturers. “But organics don’t operate as well as silicon,” he points out.
Zhirnov believes other new memory technologies, such as phase-change memory, may have more potential. Phase-change memory, which is being developed by companies including Samsung and Intel, uses heat to flip glassy units between an electrically insulating crystalline state and a conductive amorphous state. The technology offers about 100 million read-write cycles and greater overall stability.
Ethan Miller, professor of computer science at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says that plastic memory might be incorporated into e-paper. “Suppose you have a sheet with memory and a pressure sensor underneath it–you could write something and store the data, without a scanner,” he says.
Someya believes the performance of plastic flash can be improved further. In the meantime, says Yang, “there are things silicon won’t touch–lower-end applications where you want disposable memory.” Cheap organic memory devices could fill this niche. They could be used to record temperature or environmental pollution and be incorporated into pharmaceutical and food packaging for tracking purposes, he says.