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Organic Semiconductors Bring Foldable Computer Screens Closer

 

Newswise — An Israeli research team has manufactured new organic semiconductors using proteins designed from scratch in the lab and linking them together in precise chains to create electronic-grade material. The new semiconductors, called electronic peptides, could lead to lighter, cheaper and more flexible electronic devices within the next two years, the researchers say.

The electronic peptides created by Professor Nir Tessler and colleagues at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology could be used in full color, foldable LED displays with a sharper resolution than today’s computer screens, and large, flexible solar cells that spread flat and roll up like a blanket. The peptides could also be used in sensor devices that detect tiny amounts of disease molecules in the body or toxins in the environment.

Researchers can construct the electronic peptides one building block at a time, which gives them precise control over the semiconductor’s properties, such as its ability to produce a particular color on a flat screen monitor. The block-by-block approach allows the peptide researcher "to prepare the material in the same way that electrical engineers at Intel or IBM prepare a circuit," Tessler says. "We want 100 percent control that will lead to close to zero errors."

To build the electronic peptides, the Technion researchers began by imitating nature. In human cells and the rest of the biological world, peptides are created by linking together amino acids, the basic building blocks of proteins. In the lab, Tessler and others used an automatic peptide synthesizer – a computerized machine – to link together artificial combinations of amino acids and create new peptides with semiconductor properties.

"Choosing the right building blocks will give you roughly the properties you are after, and choosing the right sequence [for the blocks] will give you exactly what you need," Tessler explains.

"The nice thing about peptides is that the complexity of attaching one building block to any other is the same complexity you find in LEGO bricks," Tessler adds. "You use only one method to connect them all and you know very well how to connect them, with no need to invent a new chemical process every time you want a different sequence."

The precision manufacturing process creates "electronic grade" material, which means that the material will not lose its response to electrical signals over time like some other organic semiconductors, according to Tessler.

Tessler says the peptides could be integrated into existing electronic devices, and are not intended as a replacement for the silicon-based circuitry in today’s computers. The most popular application for semiconductors like the peptides is in flat screen displays, since these semiconductors use less energy than the materials in current computer monitors. Laptop computers with peptide-powered flat screen displays, for instance, would need to have their batteries recharged less frequently.

Professors Tessler, of the Technion Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Yoav Eichen of the Faculty of Chemistry and Gadi Schuster of the Faculty of Biology have received a patent on the electronic peptides, and a new Israeli company called Peptronics Ltd. will develop the technology for commercial purposes.

"What we have to do now is invest a lot of hard work to fully realize the potential of this new technology. There is no doubt that we will run into problems sooner or later but so far, it’s working like magic," Tessler says.

The research is part of the activities of the Russell Berrie Institute for Research in Nanotechnology at the Technion.

The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is Israel's leading science and technology university. Home to the country’s only winners of the Nobel Prize in science, it commands a worldwide reputation for its pioneering work in computer science, biotechnology, water-resource management, materials engineering, aerospace and medicine. The majority of the founders and managers of Israel's high-tech companies are alumni. Based in New York City, the American Technion Society is the leading American organization supporting higher education in Israel, with 17 offices around the country.

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This story has been adapted from a news release -
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