See-through semiconductors set to 'shake up' consumer electronics industry | The American Ceramic Society

See-through semiconductors set to ‘shake up’ consumer electronics industry


[Image above] Transparent transistors offer an opportunity to incorporate consumer electronics into any glass surface. Credit: Oregon State University

Imagine a world in which you could incorporate any kind of consumer electronic device—digital calendars, computer displays, GPS systems, and room-darkening shades—into any type of glass surface (think mirrors, windows, and windshields).

That Jetsontonian world is just within reach, thanks to the work of researchers at Oregon State University (OSU).

In 2002, an OSU team developed “transparent” transistors that it hoped would “shake up the field of consumer electronics.” Now—more than a decade later—those amorphous oxide semiconductor materials are poised to make a splash not just for their transparency but also for their clear ability to improve current electronics offerings on the market.

That market is big business. In 2014 alone, the industry was expected to rake in some $211.3 billion, according to forecasts from the Consumer Electronics Association. Consumer electronics are in the spotlight this week as Las Vegas, N.V., hosts the International Consumer Electronics Show, a stage for unveiling the latest and greatest in electronics and tech. (For complete coverage on CES 2015, head over to CNET.)

With that much moola at stake, the push for lighter, brighter, and longer-lasting devices is stronger than ever, and OSU is hopeful that their amorphous oxide semiconductors will deliver.

According to an OSU news release, the “first and most important of the semiconductors”—based on indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO)—is being incorporated into extra-crisp and clear flat-panel displays and ultrathin HDTVs, and could also find a home in the displays of our more mobile digital devices (tablets and smartphones).


Wager shows off the team’s transparent semiconductor. Credit: Oregon State University

“Because of their increased electron mobility, compounds like IGZO can provide brighter displays with higher resolution,” says John Wager of OSU’s School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

They also help to improve the energy efficiency of devices.

Since IGZO transistors use less standby power, they don’t need to be charged as often—meaning that phones that require weekly, not daily, charging could be a real possibility, say researchers.

“Amorphous oxide semiconductors benefit from the fact that they can be implemented by retrofitting an existing fabrication facility,” says Wager in the release. “This would save billions of dollars, rather than having to build a new plant, as required for low-temperature polysilicon.”

The semiconductors are being developed and licensed by a “range of companies,” which, thus far, seems promising for the continued development of other transparent electronics.

“Amorphous oxide semiconductor implementation appears on the verge of exploding,” Wager says. “If the current trend continues, in the next five years most people will likely own some device with these materials in them. This is a breathtaking pace.”

What do you think of these transparent transistors’ ability to revolutionize the consumer electronics market? Tell us in the comments.