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Foldable, transparent electronic display built

Posted: 25 Sep 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:transparent  OLED  foldable  UCLA 

Imagine a smartphone screen that doubles in size, stretching like rubber. UCLA researchers have developed a transparent and elastic organic light-emitting device (OLED) that could one day make this possible. OLED technology is used today in screens for many smartphones and some televisions.

The new OLED was stretched and re-stretched 1,000 times, extending it 30 per cent beyond its original shape and size, and it still continued to work at a high efficiency. In addition, it can be folded 180 degrees and can be twisted in multiple directions. "The OLED can be repeatedly stretched, folded, and twisted at room temperature while still remaining lit and retaining its original shape," claimed researchers at UCLA's Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science.

The new ultra-stretchable OLED material could lead to foldable and expandable screens for new classes of smartphones and other personal electronic devices; electronics-integrated clothing; wallpaper-like lighting; new minimally invasive medical tools; and many other applications.

"Our new material is the building block for fully stretchable electronics for consumer devices," said Qibing Pei, a UCLA professor of materials science and engineering and principal investigator on the research. "Along with the development of stretchable thin-film transistors, we believe that fully stretchable interactive OLED displays that are as thin as wallpaper will be achieved in the near future. And this will give creative electronics designers new dimensions to exploit."

The material has a single layer of an electro-luminescent polymer blend sandwiched between a pair of new transparent elastic composite electrodes. These electrodes are made of a network of silver nanowires inlaid into a rubbery polymer, which allows the device to be used at room temperatures. All of these layers are fully stretchable, foldable and twistable. The new material can also be fabricated in a relatively simple all-solution–based process.

"The lack of suitable elastic transparent electrodes is one of the major obstacles to the fabrication of stretchable display," Liang said. "Our new transparent, elastic composite electrode has high visual transparency, good surface electrical conductivity, high stretchability and high surface smoothness—all features essential to the fabrication of the stretchable OLED."

The team also demonstrated this ultra-flexible OLED could contain multiple pixels, rather than just a solid block of light. This could pave the way for electronic displays comprising many thousands of pixels.

"While we perceive a bright future where information and lighting are provided in various thin, stretchable or conformable form factors, or are invisible when not needed, there are still major technical challenges. We are confident that we will get there and introduce a number of cool products along the way."

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