It's a clear, colorless disk about 5 inches in diameter that bends and twists like a playing card, with a lattice of more than 20,000 nanotube transistors capable of high-performance electronics printed upon it using a potentially inexpensive low-temperature process.
See-through circuit makers: Hsaioh-Kang Chang, left, and Fumiaki Ishikawa
Its Hsieh Department creators believe the prototype points the way to such long sought after applications as car windshields that display vehicle information. It could also be used to create cheap, ultra thin, low-power "e-paper" displays. It might even be incorporated into fabric that would change color or pattern as desired for clothing or even wall covering, into nametags, signage and other applications.
A team at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering created the new device, described and illustrated in a just-published paper on “Transparent Electronics Based on Printed Aligned Nanotubes on Rigid and Flexible Structures” in the journal ACS Nano.
Fabrication steps, leading to regular arrays of single-wall nanotubes (bottom).
The researchers not only created printed circuit lattices of nanotube-based transistors to the transparent plastic but also additionally connected them to commercial gallium nitrate (GaN) light-emitting diodes, which change their luminosity by a factor of 1,000 as they are energized.
"Our results suggest that aligned nanotubes have great potential to work as building blocks for future transparent electronics," say the researchers.
The thin transparent thin-film transistor technology developed employs carbon nanotubes - tubes with walls one carbon atom thick - as the active channels for the circuits, controlled by iridium-tin oxide electrodes which function as sources, gates and drains.
Earlier attempts at transparent devices used other semiconductor materials with disappointing electronic results, enabling one kind of transistor (n-type); but not p-types; both types are needed for most applications.
The critical improvement in performance, according to the research, came from the ability to produce extremely dense, highly patterned lattices of nanotubes, rather than random tangles and clumps of the material. The Zhou lab has pioneered this technique over the past three years.
The paper contains a description of how the new devices are made.
Gallium Nitride (GaN) particle embedded in transistor net glows brighter as it is energized more vigorously.
"In addition, these aligned nanotube transistors are easy to fabricate and integrate, as compared to individual nanotube
Munushian Professor Chongwu Zhou in his laboratory.
Zhou is corresponding author on the paper, with Ishikawa and Chang co-authors. Viterbi School graduate students Koungmin Ryu, Pochiang Chen, Alexander Badmaev, Lewis Gomez De Arco, and Guozhen Shen also participated in the project. Zhou, an associate professor, holds the Viterbi School's Jack Munushian Early Career Chair.
The Focus Center Research Program (FCRP FENA) and the National Science Foundation supported the research. The original article can be read at: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/nn800434d