Science Interviews


Mon, 11th Jan 2016

Harry Potter style newspapers created

Dr Stuart Higgins, University of Cambridge

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If you're a Harry Potter fan, you may remember the newspapers they read in Newspapersthe film. They're not too dissimilar from when you read an article on your tablet - there are moving images and graphics. But one key difference is that your tablet is a hard, inflexible surface whereas the newspapers in Harry Potter are bendy, much like paper. Stuart explains to Kat Arney how this felixible style newspapers may not be too far off... 

Stuart - This news story really caught my eye because this is right up my street - this is my area of research.  There is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that's this big trade fair that happens every year.  It's just finished this year and it's basically for the tech companies to show off their latest gadgets and inventions.  And the one that really my eye was from LG Display, and they've made this flexible screen that's about 18 inches in diameter and you can roll up and bend it.  It looks like a TV screen but on a piece of plastic that's as thin as a piece of paper.

Chris - Is this for people with sort of non-ideally shaped living rooms then? You can sort of bend it into the corner, is that the point?

Kat - Or slap it on the coffee table?

Chris - Exactly. Quite literally.

Stuart - You could put it anywhere.  One of the things they say is you can actually roll it down or so, you know, once you've finished watching TV you roll it up like a poster and put it in the cupboard.  It has all kinds of other applications.  This sort of technology could also be used in things like intelligent packaging, incorporating screens and circuits into packaging.

Kat - So how does this actually work and, the big question, is it actually any good?

Stuart - Right.  So, it's a mixture of things.  We've had this technology for a while now because we've had OLED TVs - we've might have these nice big flat screens. And part of the problem is, the way these TVs work is that you have to have a big white light behind them that shines through, red, green, blue filters - he colours that make up all the colours of the rainbow that we see - and you basically work the screen by turning off which bit of the light is shining through each filter.  So instead here, they're using OLEDs, which means they have little tiny lights in there that are directly generating the red, green, and blue that you need to see, and that means they can get rid of the backlight behind it, the big white light, and that makes the whole thing thinner and a lot easier to put onto a piece of plastic.

Kat - But is it actually any good? If you keep rolling it up, shove it in your pocket, get it out again, is it just going to get knackered?

Stuart - Well this is the problem because, I don't know, did you have an unbreakable ruler at school, which it claimed to be unbreakable.  But, I tell you, if you bend it enough times it will break.  And this is the same thing, plastics fatigue, they wear, they have mechanical strain, and if you look very closely at these screen, what you're looking for occasionally, especially the flexible ones, is a thing called dead pixels.  The little ones the lights aren't turning off or aren't turning on.

Chris - I thought I had those but it turns out it was insects.

Stuart - In your screen?

Chris - Yes, because they put in front of the LCD, they put a fixed layer because the LCDs obviously much more delicate, but these little tiny thunder buggy thrip things obviously discovered it's a nice bright light source, it's nice and warm, they can get in between the two.  And I thought I had a dead pixel or two and then I discovered it was moving across the screen, and the next day it's in a different place.  The real bummer is they die in-situ and then you have this permanently dead pixel but it's a dead insect.  I tried shaking the screen, but it's kind of lodged in there.

Kat - Given that this does sound like stuff of the future, how close is it to being a consumer reality?

Stuart - So the screens themselves are getting there.  We might be maybe five years away from having that into a product.  But the challenge is not the screen itself, it's really the circuits and the technology around it that power the display.  So how are we going to make a flexible battery, how are we going to make the processor that actually puts the display on the picture?  Those are the limiting factors at the moment.


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When a question asks will we ever, it encompasses an extremely long time.
Considering the stage of development today and the progress rate of science, then you would have to have an extremely high probability that the capability to achieve such a thing will come.
Whether there is any demand for such a medium at that time is probably a lot less likely.
So it may not actually materialise as a newspaper. But it will find a multitude of uses in other applications.

Having talked myself into a loop, I suppose my answer is that if Harry Potter type newspapers ever appear they will only do so as curiosities. The capability to produce such will channel into other more consumer demandable items. Or package advertising... arthur.manousakis, Wed, 13th Jan 2016

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