It may seem like an unlikely source of inspiration for a new computer memory technology, but "Detective Conan" (otherwise known as "Case Closed") - a popular anime and manga series about a young detective who uses high-tech gadgets to help him solve cases - could have provided the creative spark that led to the development of a protein-based ultrathin memory. Using ferritin, a protein commonly found in both eukaryotes and prokaryotes that facilitates iron storage, scientists from Japan's Nara Institute of Science and Technology came up with a way to build memory on thinner substrates, thus avoiding the need for energy-intensive, high-temperature processing (often in excess of 1,000Â°C).
In the past, thin materials such as glass and plastics had proved unsuitable for the production of computer memory since they had a low heat resistance. However, with the help of ferritin - which stores iron inside its hollow spherical structure - the researchers believe it will now be possible to use these thinner materials. The exact process involves the irradiation of ferritin-covered substrate with UV light, which destroys the protein and leaves behind metal deposits (which are contained in it). The end result was a memory chip measuring less than 1 micron in thickness. The scientists, all ardent otakus, hope to see the new chips incorporated into ultrathin displays, computers and, eventually, devices like eyeglasses (which the protagonist Jimmy Kudo sports in "Detective Conan"). "We are well on the way to developing computers built on thin films that can be integrated into eyeglass lenses or into clothing. Conan's eyeglasses are no longer a dream," said team leader Yukiharu Uraoka. Turns out all that obsessive manga-reading was good for something after all.
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Image courtesy of Pink Tentacle