Tiny electrically conducting nano-sheets developed by scientists in Northern Ireland could significantly advance the capabilities and reduce the size of electronic devices we use every day.

The 2D sheets have amazing properties which allow them to appear, disappear and move around within a crystal.

This means they may in future be used in tiny circuits that can constantly reconfigure themselves to do a range of different tasks.

The so-called domain walls, developed by Queen's University Belfast researchers, have the potential to revolutionise devices like smartphones, as well as banking and medical technology.

A few atoms thick, the domain walls exist within crystal like structures, but do not change the crystal itself as they alter shape.

The material was developed at the university's School of Mathematics and Physics by physicists Dr Raymond McQuaid, Dr Amit Kumar and Professor Marty Gregg.

Details were published in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers say the material could potentially solve the problem faced by microelectronic manufacturers that it will soon become impossible to make electronic devices any smaller than the few atoms they are currently made of.

Instead, the scientists hope the ability of the domain walls to change from one form to another in tiny fractions of time, may allow the miniaturisation of electronics to continue.

"Our research suggests the possibility to "etch-a-sketch" nanoscale electrical connections, where patterns of electrically conducting wires can be drawn and then wiped away again as often as required," says Professor Gregg.

"In this way, complete electronic circuits could be created and then dynamically reconfigured when needed to carry out a different role, overturning the paradigm that electronic circuits need be fixed components of hardware, typically designed with a dedicated purpose in mind."

The researchers are now continuing their work to solve some of the remaining challenges with the technology.

This includes how to create long straight walls to conduct electricity and mimic real metallic wire behaviour.

The team is also working out a way to make domain walls appear, change positions and disappear on demand and in a particular location.