This silver nanowire-based electronic display can be twisted, folded

Flexible electronic devices are coming, but how will we make them? A new bendable, stretchable OLED display developed at the University of California-Los Angeles incorporates silver nanowires, which preserve its flexibility while remaining transparent and providing touch sensitivity.

Silver nanowires. Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.
Silver nanowires. Photo courtesy of Argonne National Laboratory.

Silver nanowires are microscopic strands that can serve as conductors. OLEDs with transparent conductors are necessary in common devices like TVs, cell phones and computer monitors.

“Our new material is the building block for fully stretchable electronics for consumer devices,” principal investigator Qibing Pei said in a release. “Along with the development of stretchable thin-film transistors, we believe that fully stretchable interactive OLED displays that are as thin as wallpaper will be achieved in the near future. And this will give creative electronics designers new dimensions to exploit.”

OLEDs are a thin film capable of emitting light. The researchers were able to fold their OLED 180 degrees and stretch it to twice its original size. The OLED continued to function even after being stretched 1,000 times.

While silver nanowires are damaged by exposure to air, the researchers were able to preserve them by encasing them in a rubbery plastic. They also gave the OLED display multiple pixels by criss-crossing the nanowires in a checkered pattern.

The researchers now want to determine how to pack in more pixels. They also plan to look into how to better seal the nanowires from air.

Their research joins a growing number of flexible displays that could be used for mobile devices, electronic clothing, robotic interfaces and much more.