The soldier of tomorrow may be uniformed in fatigues imprinted with an electronic map that only the soldier sees with special vision goggles. However remote the military mission, when central command issues updated field orders by computer, soldiers can literally read those orders as print outs on their shirts. Soldiers are linked by the clothes they wear in a computerized network to each other and to central command.
The home of tomorrow may be illuminated with a new generation of lights based on organic materials. Curtains, window blinds and ceiling tiles could all be fashioned to emit light, based on this technology. Lights would come in all colors and would be so cheaply manufactured that when they burn out, they would simply be taken down and thrown away. Low-cost windows and blinds would be solar collectors on the outside and light-emitting on the inside.
And the library of tomorrow might store vast volumes of information on one-inch by one-inch chips that need not be read sequentially, like a CD is played or read. All information bytes on a chip could be viewed simultaneously.
"This sounds like science fiction, but lots of things we have today were science fiction yesterday," says Ghassan E. Jabbour, associate research professor of optical sciences at the University of Arizona. "Some of the research we do is high risk, but if successful, the payoffs are huge."
Ghassan E. Jabbour
Jabbour is pioneering flexible organic and polymeric electronics and photonics (optical electronics) -- a technology based on new, ultra-thin organic films that either function as transistors, emit light, or in the case of solar cells, collect light to generate electricity. Jabbour and his group, along with European partners, are developing nanometer-thick organic films for printing on paper, plastic and textiles. These films could be manufactured on flexible substrates by the mile, rolling like reams of newspapers off a cylindrical press.
"Our goal really is to print these nanofilms using traditional tools like screen printing, inkjet printing, laser printing, and gravure printing. Printing all these nanofilms by traditional techniques reduces cost and is one of the major reasons why this is really attractive," Jabbour said.
His laboratory was the first to print organic light-emitting devices on large areas of plastic and textile by screen printing. His group also found a unique technique to inkjet print using this technology as well.
About six months ago, Jabbour and his team demonstrated that such nanofilms could be printed on cloth. Theirs is the first such breakthrough.
"We now know how to integrate organic materials onto textiles. We haven't solved the whole problem yet, but we understand the pitfalls, what the 'killers' are that prevent these materials from sticking to cloth."
The major challenge has been that textiles retain moisture, and organics are moisture sensitive.
Other researchers have taken a different approach by attempting to develop single fibers as transistors that then could be woven into cloth.
"But our vision is that it is really easier to integrate the materials and the cloth, not make the cloth itself," Jabbour said. "We use the cloth as the substrate on which to inkjet print or speed-print devices ranging from solid-state organic lights to solid-state organic solar cells."
Jabbour collaborates with other UA optical scientists and materials scientists on integrating ultra thin organic films for memory storage and other applications. These scientists include optical science professors Dror Sarid, Mike Descour, and Nasser Peyghambarian, materials science professors Paul Calvert and Dunbar Birnie, and graduate students Haripin Chandra and Yuka Yoshioka.
Committed to exposing potential future scientists to this exciting research, Jabbour hosts high school students and teachers, and undergraduate students from across the country, in his research lab during the summer.
"Imagine. The data storage bit is now about one micron or so. If we are able to shrink that down to 10 nanometers of space, think of how much more information could be condensed and stored," he said.
Jabbour adds a couple of caveats about university research on new photonic materials and new processes to print organic and hybrid electronics.
One is that university researchers study the science that supports development of new emerging technologies. Industry -- and industry is heavily interested, Jabbour says -- recognizes potential applications and products that can profitably be developed from academic research. That university research focuses on basic science and industry focuses on applications is a point that people sometimes fail to grasp.
Two is that applications of many new technologies are niche applications -- they are appropriate for many great new things, but won't soon replace established technologies that continue to improve.
Case in point: "Organic nano-thick film technology is not about to replace silicon," Jabbour said. "Based on current materials, organic solar cells won't out-generate silicon solar cells soon. I strongly doubt you will see space shuttles using this technology, at least for the next several years. However, organic solar cells have many attractive attributes that make them suitable replacements for their inorganic counterparts in some cases," he added.
Related link: http://www.optics.arizona.edu/oled/
Materials provided by University Of Arizona. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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