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April 7, 2013

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Hollywood needs pricey special effects to make Harry Potter's magical world come to life. But one bit of movie magic, Harry's full-motion-video newspaper, may not be so far from reality. In this ScienCentral News video we see that prototypes of these displays have already been successfully demonstrated in the lab.

Muggles -- what Harry Potter calls us regular folks -- could soon have access to a staple of the wizard's world. Purdue University's David Janes is using nanotechnology to create a high-tech display that could be used for a newspaper that updates itself, complete with moving pictures.

"So instead of seeing a static picture on your newspaper headline, you would actually see a character talking at you. Certainly I think this would be a way to do that," says Janes.

David Janes displays his nanowire technology.
Janes leads a team of researchers from several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Southern California, working to develop super-thin, flexible displays. It's one of many groups around the world trying to perfect this electronic, or "e" paper. Janes' group uses transparent transistors containing tiny nanowires to light a flexible screen.

"I guess in my mind the thing that it directly replaces is the thin-film-transistors that would be the actual drivers behind your LCDs, or your plasma televisions," says Janes. "We will no longer be constrained by simply having this rigid, glass panel we hang on our wall or our desk, and we'll be able to wrap displays around other things."

It also happens to be transparent, so manufacturers could be embed it in clear surfaces like windshields, or even your eyeglasses, because everything from the nanowires to the electrodes has been fabricated using transparent oxide materials.
"If you're sitting on a train or on an airplane, you could just watch videos directly through your eyeglasses, and not have a separate display you carried with you," says Janes.

Tiny particles of pigment are rearranged to create an image.
Image: E Ink
While that is several years away, other groups have similar products already on the market. "E Ink" uses electrical signals to rearrange miniscule particles of black and white pigment to create text or images. Like Janes' technology, this E Ink can be applied to a plastic substrate, allowing for super-thin, flexible displays. It is also daylight readable, just like books or newsprint. In the lab, they have developed a video version of the display.

"In the research lab today, we've been able to make full-color video-rate displays," says Michael McCreary, who heads the company's research team. "These have the same flexibility and daylight readability as the black and white displays, but they won't be in the marketplace until about three to five years from now."

Many companies are in collaboration with E Ink to develop everything from electronic books to low-power cellphones. Since the display in cellphones takes up a great deal of battery life, Motorola has incorporated it into a new "Motofone F-3 handset" that is daylight readable and can last up to 300 hours on stand-by from a single charge. The Sony "Reader" has been on the market since late 2006, and is a black and white, daylight readable device using the E Ink technology. A 1 gigabit card will actually hold 1,000 books, which are downloadable for a fee in the PDF format. Before the end of 2007 there's going to be a foldable pocket e-book using E Ink from the company Polymer Vision in the Netherlands.
"When we want to read something, the display actually unwraps from the body to give you a 5-inch display in a much smaller device," says McCreary.

Michael McCreary shows off a prototype flexible display.
The researchers note that conventional uses of these thin, foldable displays will be in electronic books and newspapers, but that consumers might come up with even better ideas, like weaving them into clothing or even wrapping them around household objects.

So while Harry Potter's video newspaper is still a few years off, that fantasy is at least a few steps closer to reality.

Janes' team published their latest research in Nature Nanotechnology, June 2007, and E Ink's latest research was presented at the USDC Flexible Displays & Microelectronics Conference in February, 2007.

Janes' research is funded by NASA's Institute for Nanoelectronics in Computing. E Ink is privately and publicly funded, including corporate interests from Samsung, Philips, and Polymer Vision, and many others in the video display field.

       email to a friend by James Eagan

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