Liquid Crystal research finds its home in consumer products

LCD in cell phones, clothes, computers, televisions and more

Many students may see the Liquid Crystal Institute as just a building where research beyond their comprehension takes place. However, new liquid crystal-based technology is finding its way into things like clothes and cell phones, and it may affect the way society reads and takes notes.

Asad Khan, vice president of technology for Kent Displays Inc., describes various new products using liquid crystal technology that may revolutionize the life of average consumers.

One such product is a rugged card that could replace traditional credit cards. A display will swap the three-digit security code on the back of credit cards with a unique password that is generated for every transaction.

“Imagine you make a purchase online. You put in a number (online), and a code shows up on the display,” Khan explained. “If someone steals that number, it doesn’t matter, because it’s different every time. This will provide a huge reduction in fraudulent transactions.”

This product and several others illustrate how advancements in liquid crystal technology could have an affect on common items in the near future.

Kent Displays, co-founded in 1993 by William Doane, Liquid Crystal Institute director emeritus, is a leader in developing these products, which have Reflex displays. These displays use cholesteric liquid crystal technology to create both rigid and flexible screens that require no power to maintain an image.

Other key Reflex products include electronic skins for cell phones and eTablets, Khan said. The skins’ colors can be changed on preference, and eTablets, which use ePaper created with the same technology, could potentially replace traditional paper as a writing medium.

“It does have a green aspect to it,” Khan said. “It’s electronic paper. That’s a piece of tree that will not have gone to waste for paper.”

John West, vice president for research, said eTablets could one day replace paper notepads and even newspapers. An endless variety of newspapers or magazines could potentially be received in some electronic format, such as a jump drive, that would then be displayed on the tablet.

West said such changes won’t occur in the immediate future though – maybe not even in this generation. Yet as research and technology continue to evolve, transitions like this will and have happened before.

“It’s about replacing paper, which is an extreme,” Khan said. “But it’s like CDs and digital music replacing old vinyl records.”

West said this same technology is also being applied in developing solar cells, adaptive glasses and “responsive clothing” in the fashion industry.

LCI director Oleg Lavrentovich said he is pleased to see this technology being incorporated in products available for consumers. However, that’s not because the goal is to make a profit, but to create more real-world applications for liquid crystals that benefit society.

“Our basic research is so far away from Wal-Mart,” he said. “What’s most exciting is to see how basic LCI research later results in something people can buy.”

Khan also explained how their research is geared toward improving people’s lives, as well as nature.

“We’re in the business of making lives better and more efficient,” he said. “The goal is to improve our lives and the way we interact with the environment.”

Lavrentovich also appreciates the environmentally friendly side of these products.

“We hope to hug the trees, not cut trees in the future,” Lavrentovich said with a smile.

Contact sciences reporter Jeremy Nobile at [email protected].