Engineers at UCLA have created a proof-of-concept stretchable OLED display, the first of its kind. We keep a close eye on stretchable displays, since they’re a major part of our vision of the future (fueled as it is by three separate viewings of Blade Runner during Hurricane Weekend), and this is a major step towards OLEDs that can bend, swell, shrink, and fold.
Without getting too deeply into the history of stretchable (and bendable) OLEDs, it seems that the major struggle with stretchable OLEDs is finding a way to maintain conductivity while the panel is being wrenched around. These UCLA researchers used carbon nanotubes, which are stretchable but tend to have difficulty maintaining their shape. Says Technology Review:
To make their device entirely pliable, the UCLA researchers devised a novel way of creating a carbon nanotube and polymer electrode and layering it onto a stretchable, light-emitting plastic. To make the blended electrode, the team coated carbon nanotubes onto a glass backing and added a liquid polymer that becomes solid yet stretchable when exposed to ultraviolet light. The polymer diffuses throughout the carbon nanotube network and dries to a flexible plastic that completely surrounds the network rather than just resting alongside it. Peeling the polymer-and-carbon-nanotube mix off of the glass yields a smooth, stretchable, transparent electrode.
The end product is essentially two layers of that carbon nanotube electrode with that particular type of plastic in the middle. Interestingly, the team actually used a regular office laminator to press the layers together and squeeze out any air bubbles. What they ended up with was a display that emits a blue light even when stretched by as much as 45%.
This is definitely just a first step towards our sci-fi dream displays (like, OLED clothing, or a phone that we can stretch into a tablet) but the process is simple enough that researchers should be able to build on it until we get to that point.
The full report was published in this month’s Advanced Materials.