Research at Binghamton University may change the way that smartphones, tablets and other electronics are developed.
Louis Piper, a BU professor of physics and astronomy, developed a new type of metal oxide glass that is normally found in computer and phone screens. Piper researched the properties and manufacturing processes of material glass to find a way to make it cheaper, more conductive and more transparent.
According to Piper, transparency and conduction benefits are often mutually exclusive.
“What we really did was figure out what was causing the material to look brownish when you made it, because ideally you want it transparent,” Piper said. “But when you made it fully transparent it wouldn’t be very conductive, so you would try new methods to make it more conductive and that would make it go a bit brown.”
Piper said the glass he developed was easier to handle and manufacture, especially when it came to temperature.
“The nice thing about this material is we’ve got it at room temperature,” he said. “Usually when you have all your silicon and all your expensive processes, you have to make it as crystalline as possible, so usually you go to really high temperatures like 1,000 C and have to use a lot of careful processing.”
With the help of his students, Piper discovered how to overcome this obstacle by using X-rays to track and stop electrons from leaving their atomic bonds.
“It’s basically an elaboration of the photoelectric effect, which is what Einstein won his Nobel Prize for,” Piper said. “We shine light onto a material and then give it enough energy so the electrons escape the material.”
He explained that the glass on tablets and other electronic devices had been using a silicon base which is much harder and more expensive to manufacture. His process uses amorphous metal oxide indium-gallium-zinc-oxide, which he says will make it cheaper, more conductive and more transparent.
According to Piper, the market for metal oxide glass may become very lucrative. Corning Inc., the company for which Piper is doing research, expects to see many uses for the glass in everyday life.
“It’s projected to be an $80 billion industry in the next decade for making transparent displays,” Piper said.
He said the future of metal oxide glass could include unconventional items.
“There’s a push towards having things [like] wearable electronics or coffee tables that turn into your computer,” Piper said. “When you wake up, your window goes from dark to transparent, and then you get up and you’re brushing your teeth in the mirror and the mirror turns into a computer and things like that.”
In addition to the research staff, BU has the facilities needed for developing the glass, according to Piper.
“At Binghamton we’ve got a flexible electronics center where we have microelectronic manufacturing,” Piper said. “We actually have machines that can print this material onto sheets of plastic or rollable glass and we can print out about 300 feet of electronics.”