An Elastic Display Could Be Featured on Your Next Smartphone

The age of flexible electronics is here

In a new study published on Wednesday in the journal Nature, American and Chinese researchers created a very elastic material that may be used to create stretchy and flexible screens for smart gadgets that are functional even when stretched out to double their size. These flexible materials might supplement the burgeoning industry of wearable devices’ vast range of uses, possibly transforming how we check our social media feeds, view movies, monitor personal heart rates, and more.

Zhenan Bao, a chemical engineer at Stanford University who led the new study, told The Daily Beast that her team created the new material by mixing a light-emitting compound called Super Yellow with the springy, rubber-like polyurethane. In most circumstances, mixing two compounds like this would result in a material that is ill-suited to conduct electricity.

But Bao and her team were able to stumble on a perfect ratio that could allow electricity to move seamlessly across the surface (and therefore allow for light to pass through), while also boasting a rare elastic quality.

The material was employed by the research team to produce small but highly brilliant LED screens that could display pictures such as Stanford’s renowned redwood tree emblem. The pixels are currently rather huge, which reduces the display’s quality, but Bao and her colleagues are aiming to reduce their size and enhance the resolution in future versions. The team is also working to make the material waterproof and airtight to avoid harm from water or oxygen—basically, something that might be used in the real world.

This stretchable display, like most other wearable devices, lacks the computer components required to store and analyze data. However, the researchers want to make electronic circuits out of this novel, stretchable material as well. The combination of these displays and circuits might enable engineers to create miniature sensors that could, for example, monitor a patient’s oxygen levels or assist in the creation of interactive three-dimensional displays.

“We need these devices to adjust to the human body and not cause limits or disruptions in our everyday lives,” Bao explained. Who wouldn’t agree with that?

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