Researchers at the Korean IBS, in collaboration with Sungkyunkwan University, have designed a novel graphene-based stretchable and flexible memory device for wearable electronics.

The team has constructed a memory called two-terminal tunnelling random access memory (TRAM), where two electrodes, referred to as drain and source, resemble the two communicating neurons of the synapse in the brain. While mainstream mobile electronics use the so-called three-terminal flash memory, the advantage of two-terminal memories like TRAM is that two-terminal memories do not need a thick and rigid oxide layer. While Flash memory is more reliable and has better performance, TRAM is more flexible and can be scalable, according to the team.TRAM is made up of a stack of one-atom-thick or a few atom-thick 2D crystal layers: One layer of the semiconductor molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) with two electrodes (drain and source), an insulating layer of hexagonal boron nitride (h-BN) and a graphene layer. In simple terms, memory is created (logical-0), read and erased (logical-1) by the flowing of charges through these layers. TRAM stores data by keeping electrons on its graphene layer. By applying different voltages between the electrodes, electrons flow from the drain to the graphene layer tunnelling through the insulating h-BN layer. The graphene layer becomes negatively charged and memory is written and stored and vice versa, when positive charges are introduced in the graphene layer, memory is erased.

IBS scientists carefully selected the thickness of the insulating h-BN layer as they found that a thickness of 7.5 nanometers allows the electrons to tunnel from the drain electrode to the graphene layer without leakages and without losing flexibility.

Flexibility and stretchability are the two key features of TRAM. When TRAM was fabricated on flexible plastic (PET) and stretachable silicone materials (PDMS), it could be strained up to 0.5% and 20%, respectively. In the future, TRAM can be useful to save data from flexible or wearable smartphones, eye cameras, smart surgical gloves, and body-attachable biomedical devices.

Also important is the fact that TRAM has better performance than other types of two-terminal memories known as phase-change random-access memory (PRAM) and resistive random-access memory (RRAM).