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One step closer to flexible TVs and high performance wearables

Credit: University of Manchester

A nanoscale transistor could take us a step closer to flexible televisions, tablets and phones, as well as ‘truly wearable’ smart technology.

Developed by researchers from the University of Manchester and Shandong University in China, the device, know as the thin film transistor (TFT) is made out of an oxide semiconductor.

The team says this is the first oxide-semiconductor based transistor that is capable of operating at a benchmark speed of 1GHz and could make next gen electronics faster, brighter and more flexible.

A TFT is a type of transistor usually used in LCDs. The LCD features a TFT behind each individual pixel which act as individual switches that allow the pixels to change state rapidly. This means they are able to turn on and off much quicker.

However, the researchers explain that most current TFTs are silicon-based which are opaque, rigid and expensive in comparison to their new device.

Professor Aimin Song of the University of Manchester, says: "TVs can already be made extremely thin and bright. Our work may help make TV more mechanically flexible and even cheaper to produce.

"But perhaps even more importantly, our GHz transistors may enable medium or even high performance flexible electronic circuits, such as truly wearable electronics. Wearable electronics requires flexibility and in many cases transparency, too. This would be the perfect application for our research.”

Prof. Song also indicates that there is a trend developing in smart homes, hospitals and cities, which the team's TFT could play a “key role” in.

Oxide-based technology has seen rapid development when compared to its silicon counterpart which is increasingly close to some fundamental limitations. Prof. Song says there has been fast progress in oxide-semiconductors in recent years and extensive efforts have been made in order to improve the speed of oxide-semiconductor-based TFTs. So much so that some oxide-based technology has already started replacing amorphous silicon in some gadgets, Prof Song adds, and these latest developments, he believes have brought commercialisation much closer.

“To commercialise oxide-based electronics,” Prof Song continues, “there is still a range of research and development that has to be carried out on materials, lithography, device design, testing, and large-area manufacturing. It took many decades for silicon technology to get this far and oxides are progressing at a much faster pace.

"Making a high performance device, like our GHz IGZO transistor, is challenging because not only do materials need to be optimised, but a range of issues regarding device design, fabrication and tests also have to be investigated.

“In 2015, we were able to demonstrate the fastest flexible diodes using oxide semiconductors, reaching 6.3 GHz – and it is still the world record to date.”

“So we're confident in oxide-semiconductor based technologies,” he concludes.

Bethan Grylls

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