The Trouble With Touch Screens

Scientists search for a replacement for indium-tin oxide, a transparent conductor that's vanishing fast

3 min read

Chances are that if you purchased a new handheld gadget this holiday season, it had some kind of touch screen. That’s good news for touch-screen makers, but they face a problem that is literally invisible. Indium-tin oxide (ITO), the transparent conductor used in touch displays, is in short supply. In fact, experts predict that we could run out of indium, a silvery metal produced as a byâ¿¿product of zinc mining, in the next 10 years. The price of the metal has shot up from around US $100 per kilogram to nearly $1000 in the past six years.

Fortunately, many companies and research groups are coming up with alternatives to conventional ITO technology. These include alternative ITO formulations that save on indium, organic polymers, and exotic options like carbon. By 2015, these alternatives will make up more than half of the market for transparent conductors, predicts market research firm NanoMarkets, in Glen Allen, Va.

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford

Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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