Researchers demonstrate liquid metal RAM, bringing us closer to flexible, implantable hardware – and to our Terminator 2 nightmares

A photograph of liquid RAM, dubbed FlexRAM, in its oxidation and reduction state.
A photograph of liquid RAM, dubbed FlexRAM, in its oxidation and reduction state. (Image credit: Jing Liu, Tsinghua University via IEEE.org)

Glancing at the trippy colors in the image above, you might be convinced you're looking at a Dali-inspired riff on The Persistence of Memory. This flash photo of melting metal is quite real and just as fantastical an achievement, though, since it's depicting the first example of working, liquid metal RAM.

This liquid metal RAM, called FlexRAM, stems from research done by researchers at Tsinghua University in China. As reported by IEEE Spectrum, FlexRAM is the first fully flexible resistive RAM device. Its main components involve droplets of liquid metal gallium (charge used for 1/0 binary memory values) suspended and injected into Ecoflex, which is a stretchable biopolymer.

According to Jing Liu, one of the researchers at Tsinghua who worked on FlexRAM, this offers "a theoretical foundation and technical path for future soft intelligent robots, brain-machine interface systems, and wearable/implantable electronic devices." While this is a revolutionary achievement and may indeed put us closer to a sci-fi future, it's important to contrast this with the actual performance of FlexRAM today. 

The current version of FlexRAM is comprised of eight FlexRAM storage units, which can manage one byte of data information. Phrasing in the original publication could mean this is one byte per unit (which sounds about right), or one byte for the entire array. In either case, that's hardly consumer-grade memory capacity. And currently, the tech is only good for 3,500 cycles, rather than the millions that some more traditional (and very non-flexible) memory is capable of.

But this technology is still very young, and the fact that this proof of concept can even be executed is promising, although similar research has been demonstrated elsewhere. Additionally, while FlexRAM's current capabilities obviously leaves a lot to be desired, it shows  promise in other areas. For example, it's capable of retaining its data for up to 12 hours when switched off— which could mean this has promise as a form of flexible storage, not necessarily just RAM.

Today, FlexRAM is joining the club of computing technologies previously thought impossible. This club includes literal DNA computers, functionally useful quantum computing, and maybe one day soon, an RTX 4090 that doesn't melt the power cable because it doesn't have one (visible).

  • ThomasKinsley
    Cue the countless topics here of, "My LPDDR7X2 liquid RAM dried up! What reconstitutes it?" and "Help! My RAM leaked all over the floor and destroyed my aluminum chair! What do I do?"
    Reply
  • husker
    I'd hazard a guess that one of the least important barriers to achieve "soft intelligent robots, brain-machine interface systems, and wearable/implantable electronic devices", is whether the RAM is liquid or solid. Liquid RAM will still have to be contained in something, and that 'something' will be a solid. Even if liquid memory were contained in a tiny balloon for maximum flexibility, it makes more sense to develop memory in the form of a thin and flexible solid and dispense of the liquid all together.
    Reply
  • JamesJones44
    I hate to sound like a pessimist, but people have been claiming the liquid metal revolution is just around the corner for at least two decades. It'll get cracked someday, but I'm skeptical that this is it based on what I'm reading and seen over the past 2 decades.
    Reply
  • vanadiel007
    Article does not even explain how it works, how to make it change state, how to interface with it etc...

    This sounds a lot like the article from another Chinese laboratory that managed to make a LK-99 super conductor in the kitchen sink. Still waiting on independent testing and confirmation...
    Reply
  • gg83
    Mare it white and it can be like vex milk from the Destiny franchise.
    Reply
  • evdjj3j
    vanadiel007 said:
    Article does not even explain how it works, how to make it change state, how to interface with it etc...

    This sounds a lot like the article from another Chinese laboratory that managed to make a LK-99 super conductor in the kitchen sink. Still waiting on independent testing and confirmation...
    Welcome to Tomshardware 2024.
    Reply
  • rluker5
    People used to use ferrite beads woven in copper cloth for ram. It was in a rigid frame but one easily could have put inside of some flexible insulative plastic. It is likely somebody did that and beat this stuff to the first flexible ram title by about 50 years. Some guys used to sell it on eBay. Like $15 for 512 bytes.

    Not very practical, but unless they try to copy optane, neither is this.
    Reply
  • TCA_ChinChin
    vanadiel007 said:
    Article does not even explain how it works, how to make it change state, how to interface with it etc...

    This sounds a lot like the article from another Chinese laboratory that managed to make a LK-99 super conductor in the kitchen sink. Still waiting on independent testing and confirmation...
    Here are the actual articals from a reputable journal and research article. One is from IEEE and the other from Advanced Materials.

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/flexible-electronics-flexramhttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.202309182
    With regards to the LK-99 fiasco, all the Chinese laboratories reported on LK-99 was possible synthesis of the material based on the incomplete formula from Korean researchers, with no claim that it was actually superconducting. In fact, the Chinese labs (as well as international researchers) ultimately failed to produce superconductive materials and reported it as so. It was lots of speculation & social media posts, all of which aren't sources to be taken seriously. People need to stop mistaking the Chinese version twitter and facebook and twitter and facebook themselves for scientific consensus.
    Reply
  • vanadiel007
    TCA_ChinChin said:
    Here are the actual articals from a reputable journal and research article. One is from IEEE and the other from Advanced Materials.

    https://spectrum.ieee.org/flexible-electronics-flexramhttps://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/adma.202309182
    With regards to the LK-99 fiasco, all the Chinese laboratories reported on LK-99 was possible synthesis of the material based on the incomplete formula from Korean researchers, with no claim that it was actually superconducting. In fact, the Chinese labs (as well as international researchers) ultimately failed to produce superconductive materials and reported it as so. It was lots of speculation & social media posts, all of which aren't sources to be taken seriously. People need to stop mistaking the Chinese version twitter and facebook and twitter and facebook themselves for scientific consensus.
    So, it's based on resistance changes. I think it's a lot of research time wasted as I don't see any practical uses of this.
    It seems like Chinese labs every so often make the headlines with some new invention, only to never be heard from again.
    Reply
  • TCA_ChinChin
    vanadiel007 said:
    So, it's based on resistance changes. I think it's a lot of research time wasted as I don't see any practical uses of this.
    It seems like Chinese labs every so often make the headlines with some new invention, only to never be heard from again.
    Labs from every country do this, its not exclusive to Chinese ones. People like to just crap on Chinese labs for the wrong reasons. A more sensible reason to dislike Chinese labs is their low quality article mills. Publishing something that's actually decent science in an established journal , then not following up on it isn't something terrible or unique to Chinese labs.
    Reply