Liquid Metal Could Transform Computer Memory

John Lister's picture

Researchers in China have found a way to make flexible computer memory using liquid metal. It could one day revolutionize the physical design of computer devices.

Anyone who has handled either internal computer RAM or a flash memory device will know that bending them even slightly would not end well. That's partly because the electronics is housed on often-brittle plastics, but partly because those electronics need to be flat and inflexible themselves.

In very simple terms, RAM uses flat, two-dimensional electronic grids. Each point where a horizontal and vertical line crosses is a cell that uses either a charge or switch to represent a 1 or 0 (or, a "yes" and "no" value).

While this setup is extremely miniaturized and can use multiple flat layers, it's still limited to some extent because the layers can't be bent. That restricts both where it can go and how physically stable its housing must be.

Oxidization Is Key

The researchers at Beijing's Tsinghua University have developed FlexRam, which uses a liquid metal that's largely made of gallium. Tiny droplets of the metal can be individually and reversibly oxidized. The presence or absence of oxidization will determine whether the metal conducts electricity, thus allowing data to be stored in the same way as traditional RAM. (Source:

Because the metal itself is completely flexible, it doesn't need a rigid housing. Instead, the droplets are put into Ecoflex, a biodegradable plastic that's extremely elastic and bendable. The researchers say they were able to stretch the FlexRam to twice its normal length, bend it back 180 degrees and make a full twist, all without losing performance.

The long-run idea would be to use the memory in situations where rigid data storage would be limiting. This could include wearable or implantable devices and more flexible robotic devices.

Survives Without Power

At this point in time, the flexible RAM is merely a proof of concept, as it only stores a single byte (eight bits) of data. The test only covered 3,500 operation cycles (that is, rewriting data), which is virtually nothing in commercial RAM terms.

The demonstration did over perform in one area, though. While it's technically a form of traditional RAM (such as used in computers) that is wiped clean when power is disconnected, FlexRam turned out to keep data reliably for up to 12 hours without power. That could make it useful for situations where power might be unreliable or battery life was unpredictable. (Source:

What's Your Opinion?

Do you think this idea will fulfill its promise? Can you think of situations where physically flexible data storage could help? Do you have any concerns about this technology?

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Focused100's picture

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