A group of Oxford University scientists have accidentally created a new display technology -- one that could enable a new era of smart glasses, bendable displays and even artificial retinas. The team refers to its discovery as 'nano-pixels;' it's a tiny sandwich of phase change material and transparent electrodes that change color when given a tiny jolt of current. These stacks can be used to draw tiny images, like the examples above, each one smaller than the width of a human hair. "We didn't set out to invent a new kind of display," explained research lead Harish Bhaskaran, his team was just exploring the relationship between the electrical and optical properties of phase change materials. Creating nano-pixels just sort of happened along the way.

"Because the layers that make up our devices can be deposited as thin films, they can be incorporated into very thin flexible materials," Bhaskaran says. "We have already demonstrated that the technique works on flexible Mylar sheets around 200 nanometers thick." Eventually, the technology could be used to embed displays in windshields or eyeglasses. Bhaskaran says it can even be used to mimic the photoreceptor cells in human eyes, eventually making it possible to create an artificial retina.

Oxfords team is confident that the tech will be able to display almost any color, and has filed a patent for the technology under Isis Innovation, the University's commercialization arm. It's still too early to say when this discovery will bear fruit, but it could be the foundation for a new kind of high resolution, embeddable and extremely low-power display.

[Image credit: Oxford University]

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