Organic chips will let you roll up your PC

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Credit: Messe Berlin

A cheap, blue dye might allow electricity to flow faster through some thin-film materials, thus allowing more flexible, organic electronics, and an alternative to silicon, researchers say.


Thinness and lightness is what we're looking for in our gadgets, if a perusal around a consumer electronics store is anything to go by. Lighter gear commands a premium.

I'd suggest that what we really want, though, is televisions that roll up like a paper scroll, or mobile phones woven into fabrics. Unfortunately, they doesn't exist. Although the devices are a bit lighter, we're still lugging the stuff around, just like we've always done.

However, that may be about to change.

Speeding electrons

Scientists say that they've made a breakthrough in the technology that allows electrons to move rapidly through organic materials. Some have said organic materials will be the future of electronics.

By speeding up the slow manner that electrons move within organic matter—something that has hindered the technology—it could become an alternative to silicon, they think.

Blue dye

A "low-cost" blue dye called phthalocyanine will let "electrons flow faster and farther in organic semiconductors," researchers from the University of Vermont say in an article on their website.

They're calling it "an electron superhighway," and think that it will ultimately allow flexible electronics to be made cheaply.

Roll-up electronics

The resulting 'thin-film' products could be roll-up computers and solar-powered cellphone chargers "woven into the fabric" of backpacks, University of Vermont materials scientist Madalina Furis says in the article.

It will be a "new generation of organic semiconductors" that may allow these kinds of "flexible electronics to be manufactured at low cost," she says.

Solar panels, in particular, could benefit. Roofing tiles could be made that double as photovoltaic electricity-creating panels.


The key to the discovery is a material called an "exciton," which "is a displaced electron bound together with the hole it left behind," the website explains.

Increasing the distance that the excitons can diffuse before they reach a point where they're broken apart to produce electrical current is important "to improving the efficiency of organic semiconductors."

It's in this area that the team says they've made the breakthrough. They've been able to spot the roadblocks.

"We have discovered that we have hills that electrons have to go over and potholes that they need to avoid," Furis says in the article.

Laser microscope

The team created a special scanning laser microscope to "probe" the structure of the phthalocyanine, which led to the discovery. That's never been done before, they say.

By eliminating the energy barrier, the electrons can move faster and further. That solves the hindrance in using organic material.

Solar industry

And while some of us might be more interested in the roll-up TVs, an immediate beneficiary would be the solar industry.

The U.S. Department of Energy has determined that one of the "fundamental bottlenecks" to improved solar power technologies is related to excitons migrating through systems.

"One of today's big challenges is how to make better photovoltaics and solar technologies," says Furis.

"To do that we need a deeper understanding of exciton diffusion. That's what this research is about," she says in the article.

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