Cambridge shows its expertise in large area electronics
The city of Cambridge,UK, is well known for its historical contribution to the field of organic electronics, and is keen to stay at the forefront of new applications. Recently, academics and industry shared a common platform to stimulate further collaboration. The event, organised by the Cambridge Integrated Knowledge Centre (CIKC), was held at the Hauser Forum on December 18. Entitled "Large area electronics: addressing the applications challenge", the conference was a good opportunity to see what the local players were up to.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge presented the new materials and product concepts they thought were ready for technology transfer, from inkjet printed graphene to ultra-sensitive biosensors. In particular, Prof Daping Chu gave a demonstration of an electro-active glass window which attracted a lot of curiosity from the audience. The demonstration unit, based on smectic A liquid crystals, was able to switch from a transparent state to a scattering state in a matter of seconds.
Although the application was smart windows, it was not too difficult to imagine how such a technology could be used as a display. Because of the high reflectance of the material, it can appear whiter than the E Ink displays found on e-readers. During the presentation, a picture of a 64x64 display based on the same material was shown to the audience. According to Prof Chu, the technology itself is not new but recent progress make the lifetime a lot more suitable for commercialisation.
In another presentation involving liquid crystals, Dr. Damian Gardiner explained the concept of liquid crystal lasers. The principles behind the technology were published earlier this year. The main advantage of this new laser is that the wavelength can be tuned from 450 to 850 nm by changing the helix pitch inside the liquid crystal layer. Showing a prototype handheld system to the audience, Dr. Gardiner emphasised how such a tuneable laser can be less bulky and expensive compared to conventional Ti:Sapphire systems. Moreover, by formulating an ink containing the liquid crystals, it is possible to print the lasers onto a substrate. The researchers are now looking for industrial partners to develop applications.
Blue-Ray Production Line
Cambridge-based companies were also present, including organic photovoltaic cell maker Eight19 and product designer Novalia. Scott White, CEO of PragmatIC, made some interesting observations about the myths and realities of printing electronics components. According to White, printing does not necessarily lead to inexpensive manufacturing because the quality and performance of the final device may not be competitive. In the case of PragmatIC, nano-imprint (embossing) is the technique of choice because it gives a patterning resolution down to 50 nm. He also said his company could follow a Blu-ray production model by using a self-contained clean room with fully automated deposition and embossing equipment. His comment referred to the fact that Dual-layer Blu-ray discs are made by embossing huge amount of data into plastic, at a cost of only about $1 per disc.
Plastic Logic is another company involved in making transistors on plastic substrates. With such a name, one could think their main focus is logic circuits but in fact they are mostly known for making e-paper displays. This could change though. During the conference, Plastic Logic founder Prof Henning Sirringhaus showed a picture of an integrated smart label, a card sized device incorporating three components: a sensor, a logic circuit and a display. The logic circuit processes the signals sent by the sensor, and shows the results on the display. According to Prof Sirringhaus, the whole device was made by Plastic Logic using organic semiconductors for each of the components. This is still a R&D project though and the company is clearly promoting its flexible display technology, as evidenced by the number of display samples that were demonstrated at the event.
Top image of Cambridge source: Prestige Tours
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