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Thin and Smooth Layer of Silver Could Advance Displays and Computers

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 12:51PM

For a long time the material indium tin oxide (ITO) has been a requirement in several technologies because it is a transparent conductor. One issue with ITO is that indium is quite rare, making the material ever more expensive, and another is that it is rather fragile. A potential alternative for a transparent conductor is a silver ultrathin film, which has issues of its own but researchers at the University of Michigan have recently solved some of these.

When trying to create a thin film of silver, it typically cannot be smaller than 15 nm because silver likes to cluster into islands and not form an even coating. What the Michigan researchers discovered is that adding just 6% aluminum the silver can be coaxed to form a film just 7 nm thick. After applying an anti-reflective coating they were able to make one layer up to 92.4% transparent. The aluminum is even more useful than that though, as the ultrathin film did not tarnish in open air after months, unlike pure silver films that tarnish almost immediately, disrupting its conductive properties and transparency.

While there are some obvious uses in displays, this silver ultrathin film has far more potential than that. In this form, silver is able to carry plasmon polaritons, which are oscillations created when light strikes a metal and they carry the information of the light wave. Plasmons can be much smaller than the wavelength of the light though, allowing the silver film to act as a kind of superlens. This gives the film potential uses inside of computer chips as a means to transmit information optically, allowing for faster data transfer than electronic transmission currently allows. On top of that, by alternating layers of the silver film with an insulator, like glass, a metamaterial hyperlens could be made, which could then image objects smaller than the wavelength of light and enable laser patterning, such as that used to etch computer chips, to reach smaller feature sizes.

Source: University of Michigan

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HarryTaco on March 25, 2017 12:49

Interesting article.  Thanks for that.

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