U of A researchers discover cheap, fast and eco-friendly method to make memory cells

·2 min read
Gallium is a non-toxic metal that's easy to work with and doesn’t need to be liquefied at high temperatures to be printed onto surfaces, says University of Alberta PhD student Mahmoud Almadhoun, who is researching the metal for use in memory cells. (Shutterstock - image credit)
Gallium is a non-toxic metal that's easy to work with and doesn’t need to be liquefied at high temperatures to be printed onto surfaces, says University of Alberta PhD student Mahmoud Almadhoun, who is researching the metal for use in memory cells. (Shutterstock - image credit)

A team led by a University of Alberta researcher has found a cheaper and faster way to print memory cells for electronics.

"If you want some very cheap way to store information, to track goods for example, you can print some memory cells on top of food packaging to monitor temperature from the time the meat leaves the freezer until it reaches the market," PhD student Mahmoud Almadhoun said in a phone interview.

Currently, printed electronics such as radio-frequency-identification tags, which can be placed on items to collect digital information, are manufactured in a process requiring high temperatures in special vacuum-equipped facilities.

The new method identified by Almadhoun's team uses gallium, an inexpensive metal that doesn't need to be liquefied at high temperatures to be printed onto surfaces.

Almadhoun envisions gallium memory cells being printed with the speed and ease of a newspaper printing press.

If adopted widely, gallium memory cells could quicken the pace at which researchers, governments and businesses can collect small pieces of data.

"You can track a lot of things — we're in the world of big data right now," Almadhoun said. "Everything can be connected to everything in the future."

Part of the appeal of the new technology is that the gallium is non-toxic and can be recycled. The gallium cells are meant to be single use and can be recycled more easily than cells made from other materials.

"We're not talking about competing with computers or flash drives or things like that," Almadhoun said.

The unique properties of gallium, which looks and feels similar to mercury but can be handled and even played with, make it ideal for many possible applications, he said.

The metal has already proven useful for some medical applications, such as gallium scans, in which gallium is injected into the body to help produce clear x-ray images of swelling from infections and tumours.