Mar. 29, 2002 In an advance that might do for television and computers what the transistor did for electronics, a research team at the University of California in Los Angeles has devised a means of directing the molecular action of crystalline materials with properties of both solids and liquids. It means consumers, in less than a decade, might be able sit back and revel in solid-looking images that literally project out from a television-like device. That’s not to mention the light-driven computer that could work maybe a million times faster or store a billion times more data.
The advance is reported in the March 13 print issue of the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the world’s largest scientific society.
The research raises the prospect that information and images revealed by light passing through these crystalline materials could achieve virtually any shape, or a series of shapes one right after another, and very rapidly. Parts of the crystals can be brightened, darkened or change colors nearly instantly, in billionths of a second, in the presence of electric and magnetic fields that control the three-dimensional shaping.
“We realized this could be a technological breakthrough. There are no examples that I know of of solids made to behave in this way,” says project leader Miguel Garcia-Garibay, Ph.D., a professor in UCLA’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. “Although there are many scientists designing novel electro-optic materials, as far as we know, we are the only ones pursuing this line of work. The possible applications could be quite important — and there are probably ones we haven’t thought of.”
In addition to the possibility of 3-D TV, the solid-crystal molecules could act as ultrafast switches in optical computers. Stacked in a cube several inches high, they could provide unprecedented storage potential, perhaps many billion times that of current devices. Speed of access would prove dramatically faster than is possible with current computer designs.
The crystalline materials could be eventually produced in bulk, similar in form to large plastic blocks. As more is learned, researchers expect to reduce costs and improve manufacturing efficiencies. The UCLA team is making rapid progress, Garcia-Garibay says, and holds out the prospect that commercial versions of the crystalline molecules could be available in a few years.
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