Trinity team helping develop fold-up TV

Thu, Feb 9, 2012, 00:00

SCIENTISTS AT Trinity College Dublin are helping to develop a television screen that can be rolled up and put in your back pocket. They are also helping a brewing company build a better beer bottle.

Crann, Trinity’s nanotechnology research centre, also includes researchers based at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork. “The remit of Crann is to work with industry,” said Prof Jonathan Coleman, the new professor of chemical physics in Crann and also in Trinity’s school of physics.

Ireland relies on foreign direct investment from technology companies, but they in turn come here for ready access to advanced research facilities such as Crann’s, Prof Coleman said.

Crann, co-funded by Science Foundation Ireland, specialises in nanotechnology, working on tiny components measuring millionths of a millimetre. These nanomaterials are beginning to be included in many types of products.

Crann recently completed a collaboration with HP for the development of a flexible display screen.

Liquid crystal displays and touchscreens are rigid because their inside surfaces are coated in a transparent conductive metal called indium. This metal is in short supply and will soon disappear, Prof Coleman said.

HP joined with a team of 22 Crann scientists in a four-year project to develop a flexible display that does not use indium. “People believe that in the future TV displays will not have this rigid structure. You will be able to roll up the TV like a poster,” Prof Coleman said.

The scientists found a way to take tiny metal rods, millionths of a millimetre thick and thousandths of a millimetre long, and apply them to the screen’s inner surface. They conduct electricity like indium but remain flexible.

Prof Coleman’s team is also working with London-based brewers SAB Miller on a plastic beer bottle that uses nanomaterials to slow the loss of carbonation.

Brewers favour glass because it is rigid and prevents CO2 escaping, but its weight increases transport costs. Prof Coleman is using sheets of graphene – a form of carbon and the toughest known substance – just one atom thick – to make more rigid plastic bottles.

Prof Coleman last night delivered his inaugural lecture as Trinity’s new professor of chemical physics, entitled “Tiny but mighty: how today’s nanomaterials will lead to tomorrow’s technologies”.