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Coming soon: displays on your windscreen?

Transparent transistors, currently in development, could change the way you see technology

Have you ever dreampt of a future where city windows display pastoral scenes and the newspaper is a disposable piece of constantly updating, foldable plastic?

Well, that magic may soon come to life, thanks to a new class of materials recently developed by researchers at Oregon State University and HP.

The new material under development will ultimately be used to create inexpensive transparent transistors, says John Wager, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at OSU.

Transistors, typically flat, are the most fundamental electronic device, Wager says. They are used to control the amount of current that flows through a system and ultimately allow devices to have logic, memory and amplification.

The new class of materials is created by mixing zinc oxide (often used as a high-performance sun screen) and tin oxide (the material that makes food tins), and was created as an inexpensive replacement for the costly transparent transistors used in solar cells. The mix never became a successful replacement for solar cells, but recently has found a new purpose in electronic devices.

So why make transparent transistors? According to researchers, the potential consumer applications are abundant. Possibilities include glass used as an electronic device to display information on storefronts or car windshields.

Wager also expects to see updates to LCDs, new types of copy machines, and better solar power cells. These types of devices that use glass will become significantly smaller as transparent transistors allow the mechanical support systems to be embedded in the currently unused glass.

While "most materials breakthroughs take ten years on the average to hit the consumer market," says Wager, "I don't think this one's going to take that long."

According to OSU's research, the transparent transistors can be created so cheaply that in the future there may be one-time-use disposable electronics.

If these transparent transistors were to replace the traditional silicon transistors – like the ones in your computer monitor, flat-screen television, and the CPU in your hard drive – you could see the price of many consumer electronics fall in the years to come.

"They may be so effective that there will be many uses which don't even require transparency, they are just a better type of transistor, cheap and easy to produce," Wager says.


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