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Silk provides organic boost to flexible screen technology

posted 25 Apr 2011, 08:09 by Mpelembe   [ updated 25 Apr 2011, 08:11 ]

Scientists in Taiwan have found that silk can be used to make transistors, a discovery that could lead to the development of flexible, super-fast electronic paper and touch screens.

From 3D TV screens to flexible hifi speakers, the electronics industry is developing products that could barely have been imagined even ten years ago.

The next development may well come from the laboratories of Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University.

Hwang Jenn-Chang and a group of doctoral students at the Material Engineering lab of Taiwan's National Tsing Hua University have discovered that silk produced by silkworms

can be used as an organic thin-film transistor for flexible electronics such as e-paper, radio-frequency identification tags, and LED displays.

Silk is often made into clothes, scarfs and blankets, but the scientists say it could also become a flexible and low-cost material for the key components in the electronic devices.

The researchers boiled silkworm cocoons in sodium chloride solution to extract proteins - or fibroin - then dissolved the proteins in phosphoric acid to produce liquid silk. The liquid silk forms a membrane which the researchers say can easily be made into insulators in transistors.

Hwang says the team had tried both organic and inorganic materials including aluminum nitride, and hafnium oxide, but discovered the advantages of

silk within just a few trials.

"I think it's a gift from heaven. In late 2009, one of my students, Chung-Hwa, he proposed to use silk as an insulator organic thin-film transistor, I think that was a good idea and we went for it," he said.

The government funded project began in August 2009, and the team managed stabilized the silk transistor's performance by March 2011.

Hwang says the technology is not only environmentally friendly, but also has high performance.

"I think the advantage of silk fibroin is the flexibility and even rollability, so is very suitable for flexible electronics. What we found is that silk fibroin can improve pentacene organic thin-film transistor, the speed can be improved by twenty times at least," he said.

Hwang is in the process of applying patents worldwide, and expects his team's invention to become a part of consumer products within three years.