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New Research Advances How Touchscreens Are Made

Touch Responsive Technology
Photo Credit: RMIT University

Australia’s RMIT University is leading a team of researchers who have developed an ultra-thin and ultra-flexible electronic material.

This material could be printed and rolled out like newspaper, for the touchscreens of the future.

About the Initiative

According to a recent press release, the touch-responsive technology is 100 times thinner than existing touchscreen materials and so pliable it can be rolled up like a tube.

To create the new conductive sheet, the team used a thin film common in mobile phone touchscreens and shrunk it from 3D to 2D, using liquid metal chemistry.

The nano-thin sheets are readily compatible with existing electronic technologies.

Because of their incredible flexibility, it could potentially be manufactured through roll-to-roll (R2R) processing just like a newspaper.

To create the new type of atomically-thin indium-tin oxide (ITO), the researchers used a liquid metal printing approach.

An indium-tin alloy is heated to 200C, where it becomes liquid, and then rolled over a surface to print off nano-thin sheets of indium tin oxide.

These 2D nano-sheets have the same chemical make-up as standard ITO but a different crystal structure, giving them exciting new mechanical and optical properties.

The research, with collaborators from UNSW, Monash University and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Future Low-Energy Electronics Technologies (FLEET), is published in the journal Nature Electronics.

Benefits

  • Lead researcher Dr Torben Daeneke explained that most mobile phone touchscreens were made of a transparent material, indium-tin oxide, which was very conductive but also very brittle.
  • The old material was taken and transformed from the inside in order to create a new version that is supremely thin and flexible.
  • It can be bent, twisted and can be made far more cheaply and efficiently than the slow and expensive way touchscreens are currently manufactured.
  • Turning it two-dimensional also makes it more transparent, so it lets through more light.
  • Thus, a mobile phone with a touchscreen made of this material will use less power, extending the battery life by roughly 10%.
  • On top of being fully flexible, the new type of ITO absorbs just 0.7% of light, compared with the 5-10% of standard conductive glass. To make it more electronically conductive, more layers need to be added.
  • It is a pioneering approach that cracks a challenge that was considered unsolvable. There is no other way of making this fully flexible, conductive and transparent material aside from the new liquid metal method.
  • The research team has now used the new material to create a working touchscreen, as a proof-of-concept, and have applied for a patent for the technology.
  • The material could also be used in many other optoelectronic applications, such as LEDs and touch displays, as well as potentially in future solar cells and smart windows.
  • The team is at the stage now where they can explore commercial collaboration opportunities and work with the relevant industries to bring the technology to market.
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