Transparent Silver Revolutionizes the Production of Touchscreens and Displays

Scientists from the University of Michigan have developed an extremely thin and smooth layer of silver that can be used for new displays and touchscreens in the future!

Let us start this blog article with a little experiment. Just take a short break, look around and count how many people in your area are holding a mobile device in their hands. Depending on where you are, it is at least you. 😉 Anyway, this little excursion should only show that the use of flexible electronic devices is rising steadily. In order to face the growing demand while simultaneously saving the resources needed for the production, researchers have to come up with smart innovations.

Why Silver Is a Good Alternative to ITO

At the moment, screens from our smartphones and televisions are made from Indium Tin Oxide (ITO), a ceramic material, which is a byproduct of synthesized metals. Thanks to its characteristics – it is transparent and can conduct electricity – ITO seems to be a perfect material for screens.

“[…] Indium Tin Oxide is projected to become expensive as demand for touch screens continues to grow; there are relatively few known sources of indium. Before, it was very cheap. Now, the price is rising sharply”,

said L. Jay Guo, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the University of Michigan. That is why he and his team aimed to find a suitable alternative for ITO. After a long time, their commitment now pays off, because they found the ideal substitute in silver!

Silver and Aluminium, a Perfect Match

The project was initiated by Guo when he and his team were exploring how nanopatterns in silver can generate color by selectively reflecting light. They found out that silver can only produce green and red but not the shorter blue wavelengths, aluminium however can. So, the researchers decided to combine silver with very few amounts of aluminium and created the thinnest stable silver layer ever seen. As silver normally has a tendency to accumulate in small islands rather than to extend into an even coating, the scientists believe that the aluminium is responsible for these improvements. Further, the resulting coating could guide light about 10 times as far as other metal waveguides.

This feature and the fact that it does not immediately tarnish when it is exposed to air make it a perfect material for creating screens. Guo also stated that the new material can be used to create bendable displays, as silver is quite flexible, and can be used in plastic devices without needing to heat it up. To finally putting the technology onto the market, the U-M scientists have applied for a patent and are seeking for partners.

What do you think in which other fields can this new material be used? Leave your comment next to this blog post.

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