Could thin screens be the future of technology?

From computers and phones to e-readers and watches, our world is filled with display screens. Now, two researchers at the University of Central Florida are developing nanostructures with tunable pigments, which can be used to create flexible, thin screens.

TRANSCRIPT

Our world is filled with display screens.

They're in computers, phones, e-readers, watches, and many other gadgets and devices.

Now, two researchers at the University of Central Florida are developing nanostructures with tunable pigments, which can be used to be create flexible, very thin screens.

Here's the story.

In a high-tech culture permeated by screens, it's hard to imagine the next advancement.

Will the display be the size of a billboard or a handheld?

Could it impact the military, as well as the fashion world?

Two University of Central Florida researchers think all this and more is possible.

They want to perfect the nanoscience behind a color-tunable surface.

The project started three years ago, when Debashis Chanda, my advisor, joined UCF.

He had this neat idea of creating a color-tunable surface, pretty much like that of an octopus or cephalopods.

They can create color and pattern on their skin.

And you can see their color-generation mechanism simply used surrounding light and some kind of nanostructure on the surface to create color.

So, that actually was one of the motivations for us, that can we create color on a similar way, where nature does?

The researchers are moving beyond rigid glass displays, typically found on current televisions, phones, and e-readers.

They're creating a flexible surface, with tunable pigment that mimics nature.

Here's an image of the helix array that we use for a demo.

These are structures that are more similar to the ones that we use in our research.

But these structures have very interesting interactions with light, and those are some of the aspects that we study.

We looked into how light gets coupled to this kind of metallic nanostructure surface and what happens to that light.

So, that was a first.

We played with the fundamental aspect of coupling light to those nanostructures.

This one is to show the minimize size that we can achieve with machine.

So, here we have an individual line that's about 100 nanometers.

Light itself has a wavelength of around 500 to 700.

So, one wavelength of light would oscillate 5 times that.

And by using patterning at the surface, we can kind of cheat that limit a little bit and create things even smaller.

Here we have a line that's 60 nanometers.

So, the process begins with that you need to make a nanostructure surface.

And then take that stamp, and you can actually keep imprinting on another polymidic surface.

And from that, we can then deposit metal, which will be our plasmonic surface, which actually absorbs the light.

And the liquid crystal, which is in contact with that metal surface, is what allows us to tune the color that we see from that surface.

Here we have a sample hooked up to a microscope.

And on top of the microscope we have a camera, which is then sent to a computer, where we can see the device working in real time.

We have connected to the device two electrical leads, which will change the orientation of the liquid crystal and result in the tuning of the color.

So, liquid crystals are pretty unique in that they can change their orientation based on electric field.

So, by applying a voltage, we switch the direction of these liquid-crystal molecules, and then that changes the color that is absorbed by that surface.

But significant challenges remain before these new screens become a mass-market reality.

Think about the color you generate.

You can always make them richer, better, nicer, more bright, vibrant.

You can always think about adding various gray scale.

The things that still are challenges are things like angle dependence.

You want to make sure that your display looks the same color if you're viewing it at 45 degrees or straight on.

So, we are looking at those fundamental science aspects to improve the color-generating mechanism from a science standpoint.

What excites the researchers most about their process is the seemingly limitless possibilities.

If you have a phone -- say that you want to change color.

You want it to be red one day, but you want it to be green the next.

You can tune that actively.

You could also mount a patch of this on your clothes.

You can actually watch video played on it.

There's also defense applications, like for camouflage uniforms and things like that.

It's very expensive to create different uniforms for different terrains, and so if you have one that maybe changes color, that would be advantageous.

It's not just focused on doing it once in a lab and then calling it a day.

It's about finding the technology, the fundamental science, and then trying to turn it into a real-life device.