Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Engineers in Australia have developed a new touchscreen material so thin and pliable that it can be rolled up into a tube. In the future, the material could be mass produced, printed and rolled out in big sheets like a newspaper.
To create the new touchscreen material, researchers used liquid metal chemistry to shrink indium-tin oxide film, a material used to make smart phone screens, from 3D to 2D.
"We've taken an old material and transformed it from the inside to create a new version that's supremely thin and flexible," material engineer Torben Daeneke, research fellow at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said in a news release. "You can bend it, you can twist it, and you could make it far more cheaply and efficiently than the slow and expensive way that we currently manufacture touchscreens."
Because the material is 100 times thinner than current touchscreen materials, it is more transparent.
"This means a cell phone with a touchscreen made of our material would use less power, extending the battery life by roughly 10 percent," Daeneke said.
To make the new super thin film, scientists heated an indium-tin alloy to 200 degrees Celsius, until the alloy was liquid. Scientists then rolled the liquid across a flat surface and printed off nano-thin sheets.
While the new material's chemistry is the same as the traditional touchscreen material, its crystalline structure is different, gifting the 2D film special electronic and optical properties. Scientists described the new material in a paper published Friday in the journal Nature Electronics.
Researchers have already used the film to build an actual touchscreen, and have also applied for a patent for the technology.
"We're excited to be at the stage now where we can explore commercial collaboration opportunities and work with the relevant industries to bring this technology to market," Daeneke said.
Currently, indium-tin oxide touchscreens are manufactured using a vacuum chamber. The process is expensive and energy intensive. The new liquid metal printing process developed by Daeneke and his colleagues is simple enough that it could be done in a home kitchen. It's a process that can also be scaled.
In the future, the material could be produced with the same roll-to-roll process used to print newspapers.