Organic polymer may challenge silicon for circuit supremacy

Organic polymer may challenge silicon for circuit supremacy


Plastic isn’t always plastic, as researchers in the United States and the United Kingdom can tell you. They would also say that big changes could be on the way for high-resolution televisions and, perhaps one day, high-speed computer chips.

But let’s start at the beginning.

A team of scientists from the U.S. and the U.K. (specifically from Merck Chemicals in Southampton, U.K., and the Palo Alto Research Center, the Department of Materials Science and Engineerings and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Laboratory in Stanford, Calif.) have used creative chemistry to create an organic polymer called polythiophene that can more easily and readily carry an electrical current, meaning that it can also more easily and readily be printed on large flexible surfaces, such as electronic paper and transistors.

So we have a polythiophene transistor, a transistor that can work six times faster than what is currently available—namely, silicon. So the flat-panel TV screens that are all the rage now could be produced using these organic-polymer transistors, with the result being faster products made for less time and less money.

This polymer can also be used to manufacture flat-panel displays in mobile phones and PDAs, and that sort of work is being done now. The larger the display, the more time and effort it will take; but the groundwork has been laid.

Unfortunately for current purposes, the replacement of silicon-based chips with polythiophene substitutes is perhaps much further in the future. The polymers don’t lend themselves nearly as well to the kind of precision production that the ever smaller computer chips require. But, the researchers insist, it’s not inconceivable to expect such processes to be applied in the future.