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Mar 27, 2017 11:10 AM EDT

University of Michigan Discovers Transparent Silver; A New Innovation For Touch Screen Displays

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Researchers at the University of Michigan announced last week that they have found a way to utilize thin layers of silver that can be used as a durable and flexible mobile touch screens.

Silver, as we know it, tarnishes with air exposure. However, researchers at the University of Michigan have found a way to prevent tarnishing and air exposure by combining silver with a tiny amount of aluminum. They then proceeded to produce the new material at only seven nanometers thick.

The process of combining silver with six-percent of aluminum made it possible to produce exceptionally thin and smooth layers of silver. To make the thin material transparent, they applied an anti-reflective coating to make one thin metal layer 92.4 percent transparent.

The thinnest layer of silver can revolutionize touch screen displays tremendously. The team claims that the silver coating enabled light to be guided roughly 10 times quicker than other metal waveguides. Accordingly, this property could make the silver film useful for boosting computing power while reducing power consumption.

According to L. JayGuo, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, the need to use silver to replace touch screen panels silver becomes known due to one material, indium tin oxide. It has dominated the transparent conductor market since day one.

However, due to demand, it is projected to be more expensive as the demand for touch screens increases; accordingly, there are relatively few sources of indium, according to Guo. The new discovery could make silver a worthy successor.

Additionally, the thin silver films offer two more tricks aside from its use as transparent conductors for touch screens, it has to do with silver's unparalleled ability to transport visible and infrared light waves along its surface. The light waves shrink and travel as what is called "plasmon polaritons," allowing information to travel in optical rather than electronic form for faster data transfer.

The research described in the paper "High-performance Doped Silver Films: Overcoming Fundamental Material Limits for Nanophotonic Applications," is published in the journal Advanced Materials. The National Science Foundation and the Beijing Institute of Collaborative Innovation supported the study. Currently, the University of Michigan team has applied for patent and currently looking for commercial partners to bring the invention to market.

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