Your phone display might soon be replaced with a transparent metal stronger and cheaper than what's currently on the market.
Most of us stare at screens for a huge portion of the day, but have you ever wondered what goes into one? It turns out most consist of indium tin oxide, a less-than-ideal metal which eats up to 40 percent of smartphone and tablet costs. But this tech could be on the way out thanks to a brand-new discovery: A transparent, electrically conductive metal called strontium vanadate. And outside of simply making our devices more efficent and cheaper, it could support new inventions like "smart windows" that weren't feasible for mass production before.
ITO has certainly been a functional resource, as far as smartphone metals go. But it's also one that's increasingly proven cumbersome for the tech industry. Over 90 percent of the market is dependent on ITO, and it's among the most expensive materials in our displays today. While the actual electronics behind our screens have decreased in price, ITO fluctuated wildly from $200/kg to $1000/kg over the past decade. So you can understand why Roman Engel-Herbert and a team from Penn State University wanted to develop something new.
"We are trying to make metals transparent by changing the effective mass of their electrons," Engel-Herbert explained. "We are doing this by choosing materials in which the electrostatic interaction between negatively charged electrons is very large compared to their kinetic energy. As a result of this strong electron correlation effect, electrons 'feel' each other and behave like a liquid rather than a gas of non-interacting particles."
There's no word on whether Engel-Herbert got the inspiration for this transparent metal from a Scottish engineer confused by computer mice. Regardless, this process emphasizes properties in the metal which make them ideal for smartphones, computers, and TV displays. And since its base resources are more abundantly distributed in the Earth's crust, it should prove far cheaper to mass produce. "Now, the question is how to implement these new materials into a large-scale manufacturing process," Engel-Herbert explained. "From what we understand right now, there is no reason that strontium vanadate could not replace ITO in the same equipment currently used in industry."
And if that mass production process works, there's no reason to limit strontium vanadate to phone displays. You could create large-scale smart windows that replace display boards, and the metal could even be a substitute for developing cheaper solar cells. Whatever happens, you'll literally be seeing a lot more of this metal in the future.
Source: Science Alert