While graphene research has been growing seemingly exponentially since graphene's discovery seven years ago, it has had to cross some rather wide technological chasms to find its way into the electronic products of today.
It may be in the area of touch-screen displays for mobile devices, where the rising cost of indium tin oxide (ITO) is resulting in more expensive products, that graphene could find an early commercial adoption point.
Earlier this year, I covered research coming out of Eindhoven University in the Netherlands, which was using a combination of carbon nanotubes in a mix with plastic nanoparticles to create a material that could be sprayed onto a substrate for creating conductive flexible displays.Now researchers out of James Tour’s lab at Rice University are using graphene to create a thin film for touch-screen displays.
The research, which was originally published in the journal ACS Nano, used a single-layer sheet of graphene with a grid of metallic nanowires on a flexible substrate to create a highly conductive, see-through display that is unbreakable. Anyone who has suffered the heartbreak of watching the display on his or her Smartphone shatter after hitting the ground knows how important this breakthrough could be.
The key to success in the display was the combining of the graphene with the grid of nanowires.
"Other labs have looked at using pure graphene. It might work theoretically, but when you put it on a substrate, it doesn't have high enough conductivity at a high enough transparency. It has to be assisted in some way," says Tour in the article.
Tour’s post-doctoral researcher, Yu Zhu, further explains that the metal grid strengthens the graphene and in turn the graphene fills in the voids of the grid.
Perhaps most intriguing about the research is that it seems to lend itself to inexpensive manufacturing techniques. Tour indicates that roll-to-roll and ink-jet printing are both possible with this material.
"This material is ready to scale right now," he says.
Dexter Johnson is a contributing editor at IEEE Spectrum, with a focus on nanotechnology.