With the release of Apple Watch and Google Glass, personal electronics are breaking out from our pockets. But even these newest iterations are rigid; despite years of buzz about foldable electronics, you still can’t read a book on your Kindle then fold it up like a newspaper. Now a team of Chinese researchers has developed a glowing, flexible paper designed to bring foldable electronics closer to reality.
Like previous iterations of bendy screens, this one is made of nanocellulose–mashed up wood that’s turned into transparent crystals. But what makes this paper different is how that nanocellulose was made; the researchers put biodegradable wood flour through a process called suction-filtration to crystallize it. Typically, nanocellulose is made when the basic material is ground or put under immense pressure, both of which require a lot of energy; suction-filtration is much less energy-intensive. The researchers then infused the resulting material with quantum dots, miniscule semiconductors so small that they behave like quantum particles. The quantum dots are what cause the paper to glow under light.
The final product doesn’t react to drastic temperature changes and is less toxic than typical petroleum-based screens. The researchers hope that their work can be a springboard for flexible electronics that not only work well, but are also more sustainable.