Researchers out of Northwestern University have now revealed a set of design principles for photonic crystals which could replace the heavy layered polymers used in displays. That could, according to the project's leads, Chad Mirkin and George Schatz, lead to lighter and thinner displays in laptops, televisions, and smartphones. The structure of the design is comprised of gold nanocrystals modeled after synthetic DNA, with the particles arranged in crystalline lattices. However, these wouldn't replace the visual portion of a display but would be used to replace the reflective materials which back a typical display. Air is left between lattices, resulting in a backing that's more compact but lighter and reconfigurable to meet the demands of a given display technology. For the tests, the team experimented specifically with LCD displays.
However, the discovery was made almost entirely by accident according to the research authors. In fact, the initial research has been focused almost entirely on life sciences, with more than 500 crystal types across 30 different symmetries already in use around the world based on a near identical concept. The resulting gold nanocrystal spheres are already in use in more than 1,800 'globally-used' products and have been since the two professor's research started way back in 1996. It was only through new advances in computer modeling that the pair stumbled upon and recognized the potential optical properties of their DNA-like structures. Further lab testing showed that the models, which had predicted better performance out of the gold nanocrystal arrangements than typical polymer-based technology, were correct.
Of course, further research and development will almost certainly be required before it becomes feasible for manufacturers to begin incorporating the discovery into consumer products. It may not be used at all, to begin with. With that said, the implications of the technology aren't necessarily difficult to surmise. Depending on the durability of the displays which might be built on the new discovery, smartphones, smartwatches, laptops, and other similar electronics could become much thinner and more lightweight. Each of those aspects has been a collective focus held by manufacturers since those types of products first began to become available. Companies such as Samsung and LG, for example, have invested billions into developing next-generation display technologies. This breakthrough could prove useful in those endeavors in the future.