Inexpensive computers, cell phones, and other systems that substitute flexible plastic for silicon chips may be a step closer to reality, researchers say.
A new proposal in Nature Communications overcomes a major obstacle to the development of such plastic devices—the large amount of energy required to read stored information.
Although it’s relatively cheap and easy to encode information in light for fiber optic transmission, storing information is most efficiently done using magnetism, which ensures information will survive for years without any additional power.
“So a critical issue is how to convert information from one type to another,” says Michael Flatté, professor of physics and astronomy at University of Iowa and director of the university’s Optical Science and Technology Center.
“Although it does not cost a lot of energy to convert one to the other in ordinary, silicon-chip-based computers, the energy cost is very high for flexible, plastic computing devices that are hoped to be used for inexpensive ‘throwaway’ information processors. Here we show an efficient means of converting information encoded in magnetic storage to light in a flexible plastic device.
Researchers successfully accomplished information transduction (or transfer and conversion) between a magnet and an organic light-emitting diode at room temperature and without electrical current flow between the magnet and the organic device.
“The magnetic fields from the magnetic storage device directly modify the light emission from the device,” adds coauthor Markus Wohlgenannt, professor of the physics and astronomy department and the Optical Science and Technology Center. “This could help solve problems of storage and communication for new types of inexpensive, low-power computers based on conducting plastics.”
Coauthor Andrew Kent, a physicist at New York University, says that while these studies were conducted on relatively large devices, miniaturized devices would operate on the same principles and enable new types of high capacity storage technologies.
Ferran Macià, a NYU postodoctoral fellow, and Fujian Wang and Nicolas J. Harmon of the University of Iowa are also coauthors. A US Army Research Office Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative grant funded the study.