Skin TV: Materials Science Can Bring Innovation to Reflective Displays

Materials science can lead to innovative technology such as skin-like reflective displays.
Current technology has already given us thin TVs, computers, and phones. But with the use of materials science, can we make reflective displays even thinner?
Image source: Flickr CC user Daniel Oines

Think invisibility cloaks can only be found in the world of Harry Potter? Think again. For years, scientists have been conducting research on ways to make that fantastical article of clothing a reality. It may sound like a dream come true for fans of J.K. Rowling, but the applications are far more reaching in the real world. After all, what’s an invisibility cloak if not a type of cloaking device? You better believe the military is very interested in this type of technology.

How is reflective technology possible? It’s all thanks to materials science and metamaterials, which have been engineered to have properties that aren’t normally found in nature. For example, they can affect electromagnetic radiation or sound waves. But before we get too excited about the existence of an invisibility cloak, it’s important to note that it could take decades before it becomes a reality. After all, metamaterials are artificial nanostructures—how much needs to be created to make that stealth technology a reality?1

More imminently, metamaterials and reflective technology could make a serious splash in areas like satellite communications and optical data processing, and be used to develop thinner smartphones.2

Materials Science Can Lead to Innovative Nanostructures

I know what you’re thinking. Our portable handheld devices are already thin. It’s hard to imagine them becoming any thinner while also retaining their functionality. But what about their reflective displays? Can they become thinner?

Researchers at the University of Central Florida looked at nature for inspiration. Our current display technology makes use of glass, light sources, and filters. However, creatures like chameleons and octopuses can change their colors without any of those things. In fact, what’s thinner and more flexible than skin?

The innovative technology consists of a liquid crystal layer sandwiched over a metallic nanostructure. The structure absorbs some light wavelengths and reflects others. Which wavelengths are reflected depends on the voltage applied to the crystal layer.3 As a result, you can fine-tune the display.

Materials Science Can Find Applications Beyond Technology

While the idea of reflective displays as thin as our skin can revolutionize cell phones and laptops, imagine the other applications. We recently discussed how materials science can transform our clothing into technological marvels. This reflective display takes us back to a more basic level when applied to synthetic fabrics. We can change the color of our clothes! No more social gaffes involving showing up to a party wearing the same dress as someone else. In fact, this can be used by the military as a camouflage; soldiers can blend in with their surroundings. This function seems appropriate since the chameleon originally served as inspiration for this research.

The key to this skin-like reflective display rests in the interaction of the liquid crystal layer and the metallic nanostructure. In a traditional R&D environment, predicting that interaction can mean the difference between discovering a successful candidate and losing time and money with a failed product. Obviously, everyone wants to avoid the second scenario.

To encourage efficiency in the R&D laboratory, using modeling software to simulate the interactions between atoms can mean millions of dollars saved in identifying promising nanomaterials. In the case of reflective displays, scientists can determine which nanostructures are best suited to reflecting or absorbing light. Among those candidates, researchers can then further select for prospects best suited for specific applications. Which nanostructures are appropriate for use with synthetic fabrics? Which ones can be applied to plastics? Questions that once required repeated experiments can be answered within the simulation environment.

Is your materials science firm interested in increasing efficiency by minimizing the number of experiments needed to identify promising nanostructures? A modeling and simulation environment such as BIOVIA Materials Studio might be exactly what you need. Contact us today to learn more.

  1. “NanoTech Leads to Break-Through in Stealth Technology,” March 31, 2014, http://today.ucf.edu/nanotech-leads-break-stealth-technology/
  2. “Exotic optics: Metamaterial world,” August 7, 2013, http://www.nature.com/news/exotic-optics-metamaterial-world-1.13516
  3. “World’s first full-color, flexible, skin-like display developed,” June 24, 2015, http://phys.org/news/2015-06-world-full-color-flexible-skin-like.html

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