Transparent transistor

Transparent materials that conduct electricity have found applications in solar cells while the new transistors may have broader potential.  

ENGINEERS AT Oregon State University have created the world's first transparent transistor, a see-through electronics component that could open the door to many new products.

The advance has been reported in a professional journal, Applied Physics Letters.

The discovery ``is a significant development in the context of transparent electronics,'' the scientists said in their publication, but pointed out it's too early to tell what applications may evolve.

``This is a significant new advance in basic electronics and material science,'' said John Wager, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at OSU. ``There's no doubt it will open the door to some interesting new products and businesses, but we're not sure what all they might be.''

``It's a little bit like lasers when they were first developed in the 1960s — people at first thought they were an interesting novelty, but no one was quite sure what they could be used for,'' he said. ``Later on, lasers became the foundation of dozens of products. Right now we're just beginning to think about what you could do with a transistor you can see through.''

In the real world, Wager said, the new transparent transistor is made from a common compound that also happens to filter out ultraviolet light and many people might associate with preventing sunburn on their nose — zinc oxide.

But that's part of the strength of the new findings, researchers say. The basis of a potential new industry is a compound that's cheap, safe and easy to work with, a good electrical conductor, transparent, can be deposited in thin layers at low temperatures, and is environmentally benign.

Among the possible applications:

— Transparent transistors might improve the quality of liquid crystal displays and also make it clear and bright.

— Electronic devices might be built into window glass or the windshield of a vehicle, allowing a range of new functions or the transmission of visual information.

— Many electronic devices such as flat panel displays have glass that now serves no electronic purpose, but could accommodate new circuits or functions.

There should eventually be a range of applications in consumer electronics, transportation, business and even the military, Wager said.

Transparent materials that conduct electricity have found their way into many applications — flat panel displays, solar cells, car windshields that can defrost themselves. But the advent of transparent transistors, he said, opens up the much broader potential of electronic devices that require control, logic, switching and the other transistor functions that are essential to modern information systems.

The new transistors, Wager said, are `n-type' semiconductors, which use basic electron transport and move quickly and efficiently compared to `p-type' products.

The Oregon State University research team is continuing its study of this and many other compounds that could function as transparent transistors, and different device designs.