Friday, 05 October 2018 11:40

ANU materials invention could lead to ‘bendable’ mobile phones

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Engineers at the Australian National University in Canberra have invented a semiconductor with organic and inorganic materials that can convert electricity into light very efficiently – and is thin and flexible enough to help make devices such as mobile phones bendable.

The ANU team said the invention also opened the door to a new generation of high-performance electronic devices made with organic materials that would be biodegradable or that could be easily recycled, meaning a substantially reduction of e-waste.

The university noted that the huge volumes of e-waste generated by discarded electronic devices around the world was causing irreversible damage to the environment, and Australia produced 200,000 tonnes of e-waste every year – with only 4% recycled.

Lead senior researcher Associate Professor Larry Lu said the invention was a major breakthrough.

“For the first time, we have developed an ultra-thin electronics component with excellent semiconducting properties that is an organic-inorganic hybrid structure and thin and flexible enough for future technologies, such as bendable mobile phones and display screens,” said Lu who is from the ANU Research School of Engineering.

The organic component has the thickness of just one atom — made from just carbon and hydrogen — and forms part of the semiconductor that the ANU team developed.

The inorganic component has the thickness of around two atoms, and the hybrid structure can convert electricity into light efficiently for displays on mobile phones, televisions and other electronic devices.

PhD researcher Ankur Sharma from the ANU Research School of Engineering, who recently won the ANU 3-Minute Thesis competition, said experiments demonstrated the performance of their semiconductor would be more efficient than conventional semiconductors made with inorganic materials such as silicon.

“We have the potential with this semiconductor to make mobile phones as powerful as today’s supercomputers,” Sharma said.

“The light emission from our semiconducting structure is very sharp, so it can be used for high-resolution displays and, since the materials are ultra-thin, they have the flexibility to be made into bendable screens and mobile phones in the near future.”

The team grew the organic semiconductor component molecule by molecule, in a similar way to 3D printing, in a process called chemical vapour deposition.

“We characterised the opto-electronic and electrical properties of our invention to confirm the tremendous potential of it to be used as a future semiconductor component,” Lu said.

“We are working on growing our semiconductor component on a large scale, so it can be commercialised in collaboration with prospective industry partners.”

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired in 2020. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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