Australian scientists have developed a new electronic material with touch-sensing and is much smaller than the screen thickness of a smartphone today. This technology may be used in the next generation of mobile devices, and because of its incredibly thin and flexible nature, it can be produced on a volume-to-volume (R2R) process like a printed newspaper.
The breakthrough came from researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, who began with a material called tin oxide, commonly used in today’s mobile touch screens. The transparent material is highly conductive, but has a drawback, and it is so brittle that the team tried to provide better flexibility by significantly reducing its thickness.
Lead researcher Dr Torben Daeneke said: “We have used old materials and adapted them from the inside to create a new version that is extremely thin and flexible. “You can bend it, twist it, and it’s much cheaper and more efficient than the slow and expensive way we currently make touch screens. “
The researchers achieved this through a liquid metal printing process. This involves heating the tin alloy to 200 degrees C (392 degrees F) to turn it into a liquid and then rolling through the entire surface to produce nanosheets. These 2D sheets are made of the same chemicals as conventional tin oxides, but have different crystal structures internally and therefore have some unique functions.
Although the material is not only flexible enough, it is also more transparent, absorbing only 0.7% of the light projected onit, while standard conductive glass absorbs 5% to 10% of the light. This means less power will be consumed and battery life will be extended by about 10%.
For now, the team has used the material to build a working touch screen, but you can imagine its value extending to other areas. Advanced touch displays, solar cells and smart windows.
The team is currently exploring business opportunities for the technology in the hope of attracting industry partners to bring it to market. The study was published in the journal Nature Electronics.