Gordon Smith

About Gordon Smith

Journalist by day, cunning linguist by night. A passion for politics, hypnotically involved in human rights. An Australian born with a Japanese tongue, hoping to hold the big wigs in government to account.

Crack is whack: Science develops unbreakable phone screen

Finally, technology is relevant. A pioneering group of eggheads have developed an unbreakable phone screen. Joie de Vivre.




Time for a finding that will no doubt shock as much as it stuns you: smartphones are expensive.

While your current super-powered devices may cost approximately three vital organs, this has had little effect on the colossal sales juggernaut that is the technology industry.

In 2016 alone almost 1.5 billion smartphones were snapped up by eager consumers. It’s a huge number, no doubt, and it also means a potential almost 1.5 billion devices going under the surgical knife.

Look around you, with your best and most shifty of eyes, at the iEverythings your iPeers are holding.

A significant chunk of those iEverythings probably have cracked screens, or at least a little bit of character building damage to the display.

The nature of materials like glass and silicon means technological advancement on an unprecedented scale, with mankind able to harness the power of conductivity and wireless adaptability in a neat, pocket-sized package.

But those same components come at a very literal cost, with both a high manufacturing price, and a loss of durability.

Enter science, and the promise of a new “miracle” material.

Dr Elton Santos, from Queen’s University’s School of Mathematics and Physics, has partnered with scientists from Stanford University, the University of California, California State University and Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science, to create new dynamic hybrid devices that are able to “conduct electricity at unprecedented speeds.”

Those devices are also light, durable and, most importantly, easy to manufacture on a large scale, in semiconductor plants.

By combining semiconducting molecules C60 with layered materials, such as graphene and hBN, the researchers were able to produce a unique material technology, which they argue may revolutionise the “concept” of smart devices.

This scientific stew works because the aforementioned hBN – not to be confused with the NBN – “provides stability, electronic compatibility, and isolation charge to graphene,” while C60 can transform sunlight into electricity.

A device made with this chemical cocktail would benefit from the mixing of unique features, which otherwise do not exist in the materials’ natural state.

This process of combining, called van der Waals solids, allows compounds to be brought together and assembled in a pre-defined way.

This new “miracle material” has “similar physical properties to Silicon”, explains Dr Santos, but it benefits from “improved chemical stability, lightness and flexibility” which could be used in manufacturing much less breakable devices.

These devices could also use less energy than before, leading to improved battery life and a reduction in electric shocks.

As Dr Santos adds, “by bringing together scientists from across the globe with expertise in chemistry, physics and materials science, we were able to work together and use simulations to predict how all of the materials could function when combined; and ultimately how these could work to help solve everyday problems.”

These findings could have a very real impact on the way we consume electronics, or at the very least how we break them.

“This cutting-edge research is timely and a hot-topic involving key players in the field, which opens a clear international pathway to put Queen’s on the road-map of further outstanding investigations.”

Though very much real, the project originally began as a simulation, where Dr Santos predicted that the assembly of hBN, graphene and C60 could result in a solid with “remarkable” new physical and chemical properties.

On talking with his collaborators Professor Alex Zettl and Dr Claudia Ojeda-Aristizabal at the University of California, and California St University in Long Beach about the findings, the group found a strong synergy between theory and experiments throughout the project.

“It is sort of a ‘dream project’ for a theoretician, since the accuracy achieved in the experiments remarkably matched what I predicted, and this is not normally easy to find… The model made several assumptions that have proven to be completely right.”

The findings, published in ACS Nano, lay the foundations for further exploration of new materials.

That’s a good thing, too, with current research facing difficulties in creating a “band gap” in graphene and the new material architecture.

This band gap is the key to the on-off switching operations performed by electronic devices.

Scientists being ever the eager beavers they are, Dr Santos’ team is already looking at a potential fix: transition metal dichalcogenides – a term that can be mercifully shortened to TMDs.

These “hot topic” materials are very chemically stable, have large sources for production, and band gaps that rival Silicon.

“By using these findings, we have now produced a template, but in the future, we hope to add an additional feature with TMDs,” says Dr Santos. “These are semiconductors, which bypass the problem of the band gap, so we now have a real transistor on the horizon.”

Wordy scientific shenanigans aside, these findings could have a very real impact on the way we consume electronics, or at the very least how we break them.

Enjoy your cracked screen while you still can, cut fingers and all; because the days of having a smart device as fragile as your ego may well be numbered.


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