The Leicester based scientists 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. [Prime, D., and Paul, S., Appl. Phys. Lett. (2010) 96, doi:10.1063/1.3300731]

Tests conducted by the scientists 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.

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 1,000°C, 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, who also worked on the project commented, “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.”

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.