Mighty electronic chips in your clothes to monitor your vitals? A tablet that folds up and fits in your back pocket? Research scientists Stephen Bedell and Davood Shahrjerdi at IBM's Thomas J Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York think that flexible nanoscale circuits can do just that.
The flexible nanoelectronic circuit Bedell and Shahrjedri designed is 10,000 times thinner than a piece of paper, and was peeled off of a silicon wafer and put onto plastic – an industry first. These circuits are also easily transferrable at any size, arbitrary in shape, and compatible with any flexible substrate.
These flexible circuits are the first to use the Control Spalling Technique to transfer a circuit from silicon to plastic. The circuits also demonstrated the first flexible memory (SRAM), and delivered the best performance of a chip on plastic.
With a radius of curvature of only 6 mm, these sheets of circuits could cover or roll on top of almost anything.
“In certain applications such as space satellites and portable consumer electronics, weight of onboard devices is the key factor. Thin flexible circuits are so light that a large number of these circuits can be stacked to provide unprecedented computing power,” said Bedell.
The Controlled Spalling Technique that was used to create the flexible circuits can be applied to other materials as well. For instance, Controlled Spalling could also be used to replace the poor thermal conducting sapphire substrate on solid state lighting. In this application the light (and heat) generating layers can be removed from the sapphire and mounted onto a higher thermally conducting material, such as metal.
New class of Si-based high-performance electronics
These flexible chips are as powerful as any other brittle chip sitting on silicon. More than 10 billion transistors can sit on the plastic substrate. And their ultra low-power needs – a paltry 0.6 volts – make them perfect for novel mobile applications, wearable electronics and bioelectronics.
“For example, in healthcare, a physician could implant a self-powering flexible electronic chip comprised of many nanoscale silicon-based devices into a patient to deliver drugs, or provide analysis via something like a bluetooth signal” said Shahrjerdi.
Taking the high performance of a smartphone or smart television and making it ultra-lightweight and flexible can open up endless possibilities for new applications.