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Northwestern Researchers Succeed In Developing ‘Invisible’ Transistors

Northwestern Researchers Succeed
In Developing ‘Invisible’ Transistors

It may soon be possible for a car windshield to display maps for lost drivers or for a window to double as a billboard, thanks to new technology developed by Northwestern University researchers. School officials recently announced the development of transparent electronic transistors that can enable clear glass and plastic surfaces to generate visual images.

“Our development provides new strategies for creating transparent electronics,” says Dr. Tobin J. Marks, Northwestern’s Ipatieff Research Professor in Chemistry and a professor of materials science and engineering. “You can imagine a variety of applications for new electronics that haven’t been possible previously; imagine displays of text or images that would seem to be floating in space.”

Researchers have long sought to produce new types of visual electronic displays that would eliminate visible wires. Until now, no one has been able to create transistors that could be high-performance yet invisible. Currently, transistors are utilized for the switching and computing necessary in electronics. In displays, transistors power and switch the light sources.

To create transparent thin-film transistors, Marks and a team of Northwestern researchers combined films of indium oxide, an inorganic semiconductor, with self-assembling organic molecules that provide insulating properties. The indium oxide films can be manufactured at room temperature, allowing the transistors to be produced at a low cost. In addition to being transparent, the transistors outperform the silicon transistors currently used in LCD screens.

The transistors can also be combined with existing light display technologies, such as the organic light-emitting diodes, LCDs and electroluminescent displays already used in televisions, computers and cell phones. Prototype displays using the invisible transistors could be available in 12 to 18 months, says Marks, who has formed a start-up company, Polyera, to bring the transparent transistors and related technologies to market.

Results of the Northwestern research were published in the November 2006 issue of the journal Nature Materials.

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