Beauty is skin deep for cell phones

Brittany Schenk

Nick Miller, Product Development Manager of Kent Displays, shows liquid crystal display skins at the three main stages of development. The cell phone skins start from a thin single-pixel plastic, about the thickness of tissue paper. Brittany Ankrom | Sum

Credit: DKS Editors

Cell phones and MP3 players will soon have personalized display skins, courtesy of a Kent business.

Kent Displays, located on Portage Boulevard, is fusing fashion and science through liquid crystal technology to bring consumers chic accessories for the latest gadgets.

The skins allow users to change the color of their electronic device to match an individual’s mood or clothing choice without using battery life.

“From a cell phone standpoint, the ability to change color without changing your phone is a big thing,” said Kevin Oswald, communications director of Kent Displays.

The skins are eco-friendly, durable and crafted out of thin single-pixel plastic. The plastic is about the same thickness of tissue paper and conforms to the shape of a device.

Reflex Technology allows the skins to operate without a power source by utilizing cholesteric liquid crystals that reflect light to produce a sustainable image.

Oswald said teenagers are the targeted demographic since cell phones are key elements in displaying identity.

“From a style standpoint the teenage demographic is pretty much going to be the most interested,” said Oswald.

How Liquid Crystals work:

• Definition of cholesteric: of, relating to, or being the phase of a liquid crystal characterized by arrangement of molecules in layers with the long molecular axes parallel to one another in the plane of each layer and incrementally displaced in successive layers to give helical stacking – compare nematic, smectic.

Source: The Merriam-Webster online dictionary

Interested in learning more?

Visit the following Web sites:

• Kent Displays-

• The Liquid Crystal Institute-

The Kent-based company recently received a $4.9 million matching grant from the Ohio Third Frontier, an organization providing funding to jump start young technological businesses, to create the next generation of skins.

There is a lot of strength in the liquid crystal market, said Norman Chagnon, executive director of the Third Frontier Commission.

He said Kent Displays is taking a “clever approach” by tapping into a unique niche of consumer products that focuses on accessories rather than an already Asian-dominated LCD market.

The grant will aid Kent Displays in creating a generation of skins that are bigger and better able to withstand the manufacturing process, Oswald said. Researches are also working on how to integrate the skin onto phones so it wraps around curves.

“There are really two purposes of the skins. One is to be able to personalize it. The other function that it can do is it can be used to reflect the status of the device,” Oswald said.

Skins currently come in eight colors that users can use to indicate things such as incoming calls and calendar reminders. Fixed patterns, such as a yin-yang, will also be available as a result of the grant in addition to skins for laptops and electronic logos.

Kent Display maintains a strong partnership with Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute and Oswald said the University will provide funding and research for this project.

“The roots of what we are doing here really started at the Liquid Crystal Institute way back when,” Oswald said.

The company started in 1993 as an extension of the Liquid Crystal Institute and was co-founded by J. William Doane, emeritus director of the Liquid Crystal Institute. Doane now functions as a senior advisor of Kent Displays.

“Kent State has a pivotal role in helping us with this commercialization effort,” said Asad Khan, vice president of technology at Kent Displays.

Kent State will specifically help create improved materials for brighter skins that are able to withstand higher temperature ranges, Khan said, and KSU students might be involved in developing these advancements.

Other partners for this project include: the University of Akron, DuPont Teijin Films and Solomon Systech Limited.

“We (Kent Displays) are exploring things,” Oswald said. “We are branching off into some new territory for LCD.”

Contact news correspondent Brittany Schenk at [email protected].