Tech Update – Smart Wallpaper

While not completely dismissive of my ancestral home, the University of Huddersfield tends to rank quite highly in my list of oxymorons along with military intelligence. Hence my surprise at it being named in the recent copy of The Economist away from the liquidations and obituaries pages. I was similarly jolted out of my complacency when having only just come to terms with being less smart than my phone I could also be outsmarted by my wallpaper. My early work in industry started with the manufacture of web offset newspaper presses, things which one might imagine were on their way out. However when 20 newspapers per second can be churned out it is natural to look for similar high speed production of more sophisticated products. Electronic circuits using conductive inks have been around for a while but now an Accrington (almost as glamorous as Huddersfield, but gloomier), UK, firm is printing sequential coatings of conductors, insulators and semi conductors onto foils, films and even flexible glass (another oxymoron?). Printing can be at the atomic scale by accelerating ions from plasma or by an electron beam. Contamination is avoided by processing in a vacuum. Because a break in the web can be catastrophic for the whole reel I surmise that this part of Lancashire was chosen as being a challenger for the dampest place on earth just as it suited the cotton industry at the beginning of the first industrial revolution. An essential feature of this type of production is spotting errors before thousands of metres are wasted. The University of Huddersfield came onto the scene in using a reflected light technique to build up a 3D model of micron scale features to detects breaks in the circuits. Not to be outdone, and possibly in a belated attempt to catch up with the University of Huddersfield, Cambridge University developed the use of graphene (single atom thick carbon sheeting) as a printing ink substitute for silver at a far lower price but similarly highly conductive. California’s Berkeley National Laboratory has contributed by using perovskites (appears to be a cousin to our South African ilmenite but CaTiO3 rather than FeTiO3) to make an ink for (improved) 31% efficient solar panels. While transistors cannot be incorporated at the density of conventional silicon chips, flexible strips from this process working at 110 gigahertz can be used in most electronic gadgets. Meanwhile my wallpaper has explained to me (slowly, naturally) that it and its fellows work by the use of either organic LEDs or quantum dots – semiconducting crystals just a few atoms wide – which are electrically stimulated to illuminate a room. Thus I am partially illuminated, but more by the wallpaper than the knowledge. After all the hype when will they finally make a hiking shirt that will charge your phone/camera/GPS/GoPro at the same time. (Source:The Economist)

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