Carbon Nanotubes: Our Tiny Friends

Carbon Nanotubes: Our Tiny Friends

This infinitesimal structure may light up your next LCD.


What would you give up to have a big-screen LCD such as Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display on your desk? Right now, you’d have to sacrifice something worth $1,999—although the price has gone down since the display debuted at $3,299 back in June 2004. But two grand is still two grand. Take heart: Over in South Korea, Samsung researchers are developing a technology that may one day slash high LCD prices. And I do mean slash.


Before I explain how Buckminster Fuller might help bring you a cheaper LCD, here’s a bit of background: One reason that large LCDs are so pricey is that their backlighting can easily account for over one-third of their cost. One solution to this problem was supposed to be displays based on OLED (organic light-emitting diode) technology—OLEDs emit their own light, so backlighting isn’t required. But there’s a problem: Like LCDs, OLEDs mix light from red, green, and blue pixels to create multicolored images. Unfortunately, however, today’s blue OLED pixels have a noticeably shorter life span than do the red and green ones. This makes OLED technology a great candidate for devices that aren’t backlit all the time—think cell phones and portable media players—but not for constantly backlit items like your Mac’s display or your TV.


To the rescue comes a bright idea that combines tried-and-true LCD technology with a teensy-weensy little thing called a carbon nanotube, one of a class of molecular structures called fullerenes, which are named after the aforementioned Mr. Fuller and inspired by his work with geometric structures. (Spherical fullerenes are often called buckyballs, but I digress…) Carbon nanotubes have an array of zany properties, among them that they’re stronger than steel and able to conduct electricity better than metal. Also—wait for it—they can emit light.


Researchers already use the electron-spraying capabilities of carbon nanotubes to build displays in which the little suckers essentially take the place of that big ol’ electron gun in your tube-based TV or monitor to light up phosphors that coat the inside of a display surface. The folks at Samsung, however, decided instead to use carbon nanotubes’ light-emitting capabilities to individually backlight each pixel in an LCD.


Around now you might be asking, “So what?” Well, here’s what: LCDs lit by carbon nanotubes promise to be much cheaper to manufacture than traditional backlit LCDs. Plus, they’ll be more energy-efficient, and each pixel will have a faster response rate than those in garden-variety LCDs.


Hmm… Lower cost? Improved efficiency? A snappier image?


Thanks, Bucky!




+ Add a Comment


would it be safe to say though that maybe the price slashes wont come instantly, i mean it would save the big companies big bucks for a while. I think companies will use this technology to their favors, they will be able to control the prices therefore they can say when to lower prices.



OK, when is the best guess when this technology will finally yield commerical products? 2008? 2009?

Log in to Mac|Life directly or log in using Facebook

Forgot your username or password?
Click here for help.

Login with Facebook
Log in using Facebook to share comments and articles easily with your Facebook feed.