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Research breakthrough may lead to disposable e-readers

By Damir Beciri
23 November 2010

andrew-stecklA discovery by University of Cincinnati researchers could revolutionize display technology with e-paper that’s fast enough for video yet cheap enough to be disposable. In their research, Andrew Steckl and UC doctoral student Duk Young Kim demonstrated that paper could be used as a flexible host material for an electrowetting (EW) device. EW involves applying an electric field to colored droplets within a display in order to reveal content such as type, photographs and video.

Steckl’s discovery that paper could be used as the host material has far-reaching implications considering other popular e-readers on the market such as the Kindle and iPad rely on complex circuitry printed over a rigid glass substrate. One of the main goals of e-paper is to replicate the look and feel of actual ink on paper. Importantly, they found that the performance of the electrowetting device on paper is equivalent to that of glass.

“It is pretty exciting”, said Steckl. “With the right paper, the right process and the right device fabrication technique, you can get results that are as good as you would get on glass, and our results are good enough for a video-style e-reader.”

Steckl imagines a future device that is rollable, feels like paper yet delivers books, news and even high-resolution color video in bright-light conditions.

“Nothing looks better than paper for reading”, said Steckl. “We hope to have something that would actually look like paper but behave like a computer monitor in terms of its ability to store information. We would have something that is very cheap, very fast, full-color and at the end of the day or the end of the week, you could pitch it into the trash.”

Disposing of a paper-based e-reader is also far simpler in terms of the environmental impact. Steckl’s goal is attract commercial interest in the technology for next-stage development, which he expects will take three to five years to get to market. The work was supported, in part, by a grant from the National Science Foundation and was conducted at the Nanoelectronics Laboratory at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science.

The research paper has been featured this week as the November cover story of ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces:” Electrowetting on Paper for Electronic Paper Display”.

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