Work at BU can improve the glass used in smartphones, tablets and other touch-screen devices.
In Binghamton University, NY, Professor Louis Piper has developed a new metal oxide glass, Which is typically used in tablets, netbook and phone screens. Piper researched the properties and manufacturing processes of material glass to find a way to make it cheaper, more conductive and more transparent.
Professor Piper, who is working with Corning Inc, suggests that there is often a trade off with transparency and conduction. He explained, “What we really did was figure out what was causing the material to look brownish when you made it, because ideally you want it transparent. But when you made it fully transparent it wouldn’t be very conductive, so you would try new methods to make it more conductive and that would make it go a bit brown.”
The new variety of glass developed by Professor Piper is easier to manufacture, especially when it comes to temperature. “The nice thing about this material is we’ve got it at room temperature. Usually when you have all your silicon and all your expensive processes, you have to make it as crystalline as possible, so usually you go to really high temperatures like 1,000 C and have to use a lot of careful processing.”
With the help of his students, Professor Piper overcame this dilemma using X-rays to track and stop electrons from leaving their atomic bonds.
“It’s basically an elaboration of the photoelectric effect, which is what Einstein won his Nobel Prize for. We shine light onto a material and then give it enough energy so the electrons escape the material.”
The glass on tablets, smartphones and netbooks used a silicon base, which is much harder and more expensive to manufacture. His process uses amorphous metal oxide indium-gallium-zinc-oxide, making it cheaper to produce, more conductive and more transparent.
According to Piper, the market for metal oxide glass could be very lucrative. Corning Inc., the company for which Piper is doing research, expects to see many uses for the glass in everyday life. “It’s projected to be an 80 billion industry USD in the next decade for making transparent displays.” He said the future of metal oxide glass could include unconventional items. “There’s a push towards having things; wearable electronics or coffee tables that turn into your computer. When you wake up, your window goes from dark to transparent, and then you get up and you’re brushing your teeth in the mirror and the mirror turns into a computer and things like that.”
In addition to the research staff, BU has the facilities needed for developing the glass. “At Binghamton we’ve got a flexible electronics center where we have microelectronic manufacturing. We actually have machines that can print this material onto sheets of plastic or rollable glass and we can print out about 300 feet of electronics.”