New display technology is thinner, lighter than ever
Image: Isis Innovation

Researchers at Oxford University in the UK say their new screen technology can take smart displays beyond computers and smartphones. At just a few nanometres thick, their new displays have the potential to be mounted onto flexible and transparent surfaces such as car windshields and contact lenses.

The technology uses special materials called ‘phase-change materials’ that can change their structure when they’re heated or cooled. The team, led by Associate Professor of Materials, Harish Bhaskaran, explored the potential of using phase-change materials such as germanium antimony tellurium (GST) to reflect different coloured lights.

"They took a single layer of GST just nanometres thick and sandwiched it between two ultra-thin layers of a transparent conductor, and stuck that on top of a mirrored surface,” says Tim Dean at ABC Science Online. "The researchers predicted that by varying the thickness of one of the transparent layers, they could change the colour of light that was reflected back, and by changing the phase of the GST they could switch it from one colour to another.”

A prototype was built and the team was able to change it from grey to blue when it was heated. They then tried to produce a range of different colours and were successful. They drew images on the surface using an atomic force microscope


Image: One of the images they displayed - it's the width of a few human hairs.                                           Credit: Isis Innovation

According ABC Science Online, because the layers are mere nanometres thick, this allows for incredible thinness and brightness, and requires no power to keep an image on the screen because rather than being projected, it's been drawn onto the screen. The pixels are also nanometres thick, which means they hold the potential for much better resolution than any display technology currently on the market.

The team has described their new technology in the journal Nature, and will showcase it by the end of next year. 

"It always is a long way from the first demonstration to the first application,” John Daniels, senior lecturer in materials science at the University of New South Wales, told Tim Dean at ABC Science Online. "But this is a field where things can go from the lab to application in a very short period of time because the dollars are so big if they have something that's better than what's on the market at the moment."