Breakthrough made in brittle smartphone screens

Breakthrough made in brittle smartphone screens [Image: Casarsa via iStock]

Scientists at the University of Sussex say they may have found a solution to the problem of smartphone screens that are easily damaged.

Professor Alan Dalton, from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and his team have announced they have developed a new way to make smartphone touchscreens that are cheaper, less brittle and more environmentally friendly.

In addition, the researchers say the new method can also promise that devices will use less energy, are more responsive and do not tarnish in the air.

They explained that the problem has been that indium tin oxide, which is currently used to make smartphone screens, is both brittle and expensive. Indium, the primary constituent, is also a rare metal and extracting it is ecologically damaging.

Until now, the best alternative to indium has been silver, which is also expensive. However, now the University of Sussex researchers have come up with a breakthrough: combining silver nanowires with graphene – a two-dimensional carbon material. They said the new hybrid material “matches the performance of the existing technologies at a fraction of the cost”.

Prof Dalton said: “What’s exciting about what we’re doing is the way we put the graphene layer down. We float the graphene particles on the surface of water, then pick them up with a rubber stamp, a bit like a potato stamp, and lay it on top of the silver nanowire film in whatever pattern we like.

“And this breakthrough technique is inherently scalable. It would be relatively simple to combine silver nanowires and graphene in this way on a large scale using spraying machines and patterned rollers. This means that brittle mobile phone screens might soon be a thing of the past.”