[Image above] A nanocrystal-based material converts blue laser emission to white light for combined illumination and data communication. Credit: KAUST

The evolution of electronic devices in the last decade alone is impressive. Just think about how far cell phones have come—we’ve gone from big and bulky to sleek and efficient in a fraction of a lifetime.

Laptops, cameras, and tablets are becoming thinner, more durable, and flexible with sharp mega-pixel displays. In fact, some displays are going ultrathin and revolutionizing wearable technology.

Durability and efficiency are also at the forefront of this continuing technological evolution. Corning recently unveiled its toughest glass to date with Gorilla Glass 5, and last month, ACerS member Jay Narayan and his team at North Carolina State University developed a way to integrate novel oxide materials onto a computer chip, allowing the creation of smarter devices.

And in the past couple of weeks alone, significant innovations in next-generation electronics have made news. Check out these recent buzzworthy developments in tech research.

Circuitry goes see-through.

Researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia developed high-performance electronic circuits made entirely from transparent, inexpensive, and readily available materials such as aluminum-doped zinc oxide—“a promising low-cost alternative to indium tin oxide,” according to a recent KAUST press release. The team says the cost-efficient circuits have many potential applications, including heads-up displays on car windshields, transparent TV sets, and smart windows.

The research, published in Advanced Materials, is “Indium-free fully transparent electronics deposited entirely by atomic layer deposition” (DOI: 10.1002/adma.201600503).

Faster wi-fi connection with lasers.

KAUST researchers also have harnessed white light from lasers to boost data communication speeds of up to 2 GB/s—an innovation that could offer a way to combine information transmission with illumination and display technologies (meaning that someday it might be possible for the ceiling lights in our offices to provide internet connections to our laptops). The team developed a nanocrystalline material of cesium lead bromide that rapidly makes white light out of blue light required for visible-light communication that’s 40 times faster than current conversion technologies.

The research, published in ACS Photonics, is “Perovskite nanocrystals as a color converter for visible light communication” (DOI: 10.1021/acsphotonics.6b00187).

Shape-shifting liquid metals for elastic electronics.

Scientists at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, have developed self-propelling liquid metals that could lead to elastic electronics, according to an RMIT press release. Current electronic devices rely on circuits that use solid-state components with fixed metallic tracks and semiconductors, the release explains. Liquid metals, however, could pave the way for soft circuit systems that act more like live cells capable of autonomous movement and multiple configurations. To enable autonomous movement, the team immersed liquid metal droplets in water with varying ionic contents. “Simply tweaking the water’s chemistry made the liquid metal droplets move and change shape, without any need for external mechanical, electronic, or optical stimulants,” explains lead researcher Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh. “Using this discovery, we were able to create moving objects, switches, and pumps that could operate autonomously—self-propelling liquid metals driven by the composition of the surrounding fluid.”

The research, published in Nature Communications, is “Ionic imbalance induced self-propulsion of liquid metals” (DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12402).

What interesting tech innovation news have you seen lately? Let us know in the comments!