A childhood toy helped inspire a new material that may revolutionize computer storage. University of Pittsburgh professor Jeremy Levy used the Etch a Sketch as a model for the new material, which can switch back and forth from being a conductor of electricity to an insulator. Much like an Etch a Sketch uses a stylus to draw designs, researchers can draw nano-scale wires onto this new material, thus turning on its ability to conduct electricity. Exposing the material to light erases the wires, much like shaking an Etch a Sketch erases the drawing.
Levy says this discovery may one day lead to advances in shrinking the size of computer memory storage. He says researchers have been able to write data at 100 times the density of today's hard disks.
Levy says it's not the first time a childhood toy has inspired his work. In graduate school, he says he worked on something modeled after the Slinky. He says the connection makes sense to him because research is about discovery, which is something children are encouraged to do.