See-through circuits closer

June 18/25, 2003

The transparent computer displays featured in the film Minority Report were made possible by special effects, but real-world transparent electronics are on the horizon.

Researchers from the Tokyo Institute of Technology (TITech) in Japan and Japan Science and Technology Corporation (JST) have altered a type of transparent oxide so that it conducts electricity, and have constructed a transistor from the material. And Oregon State University researchers have made a transparent transistor from zinc oxide, a common, cheap ingredient of suntan lotion.

The two transistors are significant improvements over the first transparent transistors made in 1996. Plastic transparent transistors have been under development for several years for use in electronic paper and flexible displays. In contrast, the TITech/JST and Oregon State transparent transistors are made from sturdier inorganic materials.

The TITech/JST transistor is very efficient, but expensive to produce. The Oregon State transistor could increase display efficiency and brightness by 10 to 20 percent, according to the researchers.

Inorganic transparent transistors could find practical use in two to five years, and be used for transparent displays in 5 to 15 years, according to the researchers. The TITech/JST work appeared in the May 23, 2003 issue of Science. The Oregon State work appeared in the February 3, 2003 issue of Applied Physics Letters.

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