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Semiconductor breakthrough marks step to iPads you can roll up

Semiconductor breakthrough marks step to iPads you can roll up

Posting in Technology

Researchers have created a new material that could help make flexible tablet computers a reality and developed a process that should speed up the arrival of such gadgets.

Since the iPad came out, magazines have been developing versions especially for the tablet computer.

As nice as these apps are, they are missing one key feature of paper magazines: the ability to be rolled up and stuck in your pocket.

But today, researchers at Stanford and Harvard Universities are announcing a development that takes us one step closer to a pocket-friendly tablet computer.

The Stanford and Harvard scientists have created a new material for high-speed organic semiconductors, which show promise in thin film and flexible displays.

What's been preventing current displays from being flexible is the fact that inorganic materials that are currently used in semiconductors, such as silicon, cannot bend. While organic semiconductors show promise on that front, they haven't yet reached the speeds that are necessary for high-definition displays.

The Stanford and Harvard researchers have developed a new organic semiconductor material that is one of the fastest yet. Additionally, the researchers have created a new approach to developing organic semiconductors that could shorten that process by years.

The experiment

Creating a new organic electronic material requires synthesizing many possible materials and then testing them each in a hit-or-miss process. Synthesizing a compound can take years, so the process is extremely time-consuming.

The Stanford/Harvard team lopped years off this process by using computer predictions to narrow the candidate materials before they tried to make any of them.

They began with DNTT, which had already proved a good organic semiconductor. They then evaluated various compounds that had chemical and electrical properties that might enhance its performance.

Using their computer predictions, they determined that one of seven candidates would be best for improving DNTT's performance -- by helping a charge to hop onto DNTT and helping the charge move from molecule to molecule within DNTT. They forecast it would double the speed of DNTT.

After a year and a half spent synthesizing and testing the new compound, they were proved right: the new material doubled DNTT's speed, making it 30 times faster than the amorphous silicon currently used in liquid displays in flat panel TVs and computer monitors.

The team hopes other research groups use their approach to finding better materials for organic semiconductors. They themselves plan to use this process to develop high-efficiency material for organic solar cells.

In a press release, Stanford's Zhenan Bao, said:

“It would have taken several years to both synthesize and characterize all the seven candidate compounds. With this approach, we were able to focus on the most promising candidate with the best performance, as predicted by theory."

via: Stanford University News Service

photo: A single crystal of the new organic semiconductor material shown in polarized light. The white scale bar at the bottom center of the photo represents 10 microns (10 millionths of a meter). (Anatoliy Sokolov)

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Laura Shin

Features Editor

Laura Shin has been published in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, and is currently a contributor at Forbes. Previously, she worked at Newsweek, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and LearnVest. She holds degrees from Stanford University and Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure