Flexible, near-transparent, ultrathin material heralds revolution in e-readers, wearables and solar energy

A new material that is only a few atoms thick could one day be the staple of solar panels, e-readers and a host of wearable technology after researchers built a series of demonstration devices to prove its ability to harness or emit light.

The material, which is named tungsten diselenide, is one of a group of materials that are just one molecule thick. Following advancements in nanotechnology, scientists are racing to investigate the potential of these materials for use in electronic devices that source, detect and control light, known at optoelectronics.

The research, which was undertaken by scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), involved using tungsten diselenide to create a working diode that could be used to make a variety of optoelectronic devices.

Although the diode was just a working prototype, Mitsui career development associate professor of physics Pablo Jarillo-Herrero, who oversaw the research, said that its properties were “very close to the ideal”.

The technology has enormous potential within optoelectronics. Perhaps most significant of these is the possibilities for photovoltaics.

 MIT LED

The material could be used to make solar panels that were only millimetres thick, almost entirely transparent and very flexible. These could be used to turn almost any exterior surface into a solar panel – windows, walls and whole building facades could be wrapped in the material with minimal effect on appearance, potentially turning whole cities into massive solar power stations.

Buildings are not the only thing that this ultrathin solar panel could be attached to, however. The flexible nature of the material makes it suitable as part of clothing, meaning it could be worn by individuals and used to charge their smartphones, laptops and other devices.

The material’s other uses also lean towards wearables. One of the main uses is for LEDs, but with one advantage – unlike many other forms of LEDs, MIT says that “it should be possible to make LEDs that produce any colour”.

This could potentially make for a flexible surface with light patterns of video feeds that are tailored into clothing. It could also be idea for heads-up displays in cars and other vehicles, as well as for tables, kitchen worktops or other household services.


“The material could be used to make solar panels that were only millimetres thick, almost entirely transparent and very flexible.”


In an LED form the material could also be used to create an amazing e-reader – transparent and highly flexible but clearly displaying any content required.

The material can also be used to make photodetectors, or sensors that detect light. These are used across an enormous range of applications, from digital photography to medical devices. So if tungsten diselenide were to take off as a material, it could have wide-ranging impacts on many everyday gadgets and technologies.

The researchers also believe that the material could provide benefits in terms of speed and power consumption due to the material’s minute thickness.

Tungsten diselenide is made using selenium, a trace element that is found in metal sulfide ores, and which is a by-product of copper production.

If this material were to take off, selenium could – at least to some extent – replace silicon in electronic devices, which may pose a problem as there is less selenium on earth than there is silicon.

However, this may not be such a problem, as MIT postdoc Hugh Churchill explains: “It’s thousands or tens of thousands of times thinner [than conventional materials], so you’d use thousands of times less material to make devices of a given size.”


Body image courtesy of MIT.


Smart collars give independence to the dogs of the future

You’ll never lose your dog again with a new flashing wearable collar, and if he/she does manage to run away they can always let themselves back into the house using embedded wireless technology.

Californian start-up company PetAura has made a dog collar that combines LEDs and near field communication (NFC) technology.

The NFC technology in the collar enables close-range communication between two similar devices. This can be used by your dog to open doors that have been combined with the NFC technology, removing the need for dog flaps and being pestered by man’s best friend to leave the house.

The smart-collar can also combine contact information for if your dog gets lost, medical data and Bitcoin or Google Wallet data, presumably so the dog can order its own food.

The rechargeable LEDs that come with the collar include more than 80 hours of use time. Also included are neodymium magnets that help to treat arthritis and increase blood flow in our pets.

The company has now launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise the funding for the company progress. The founders of the company have high ambitions for the collar, which they envisage could be adapted for other pets as well.

Their funding campaign explains the thinking behind the new collar: “When we first came up with the idea of integrating safety LED lights and other technologies into a pet collar, we began ‘opening up’ other products.

“The first thing that struck us was how poorly made they were. Quality & Comfort were completely ignored. Even the small details, were a big deal in our opinion.”

petura2

Researchers from Cornell University, New York, have previously created a $299 collar that measures heart rate, counts calories and checks if the animal is getting enough exercise.

PetAura say on their website that the collar will be affordable while being of a higher quality than that of the existing competition.

They say: “We’ve just started a dog collar for now, but already working on thinner ones for our cats.

“The funding we receive for this project will empower our team to grow. It will also let us know that there is a community that wants better things for our extended pet families.”


Image courtesy of the PetAura.