GENEVA – Researchers have developed a video-display technology that can produce an unlimited range of colors by flexing tiny artificial "muscles" that generate different shades by expanding and contracting in response to electricity.
The flexible material allows individual pixels — the dots that make up an image on a screen — to display "every single natural color," said Manuel Aschwanden, a project researcher and nanotechnology specialist at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.
By contrast, conventional displays rely on ever smaller pixels that trick the eye into seeing a color that is in fact mixed from the three basic colors red, green and blue.
Peter Bryanston-Cross of the Optical Engineering Laboratory at Warwick University, England, said a device based on the new technology "would be a significant achievement," but noted that "there can be a long jump to move from primitive demonstrator to actual new technological displays."
"But it's a very interesting and remarkable achievement, with real potential," said Bryanston-Cross, who was not involved in the Swiss research.
The Zurich team's work, led by Professor Andreas Stemmer and published in the September edition of the scientific journal Optics Letters, poses "a serious challenge to big manufacturers," said Aschwanden.
He said it could allow high-end optical equipment such as microscopes to be produced more cheaply and efficiently.
It also promises to significantly increase the screen resolution of conventional computer monitors.
"At the moment most screens achieve three to four pixels per millimeter (75-100 dots per inch). If you look closely enough at the current screens, you can still see the individual pixels. Our system can achieve 16 pixels per millimeter (400 dpi)."
According to Aschwanden, current display technology is limited because screens have to create all colors by combining red, green and blue.
"The problem with normal LCD screens is that they start with just one shade of red. If you want dark red, you need to create that first by mixing the available red with green and blue, and so the color isn't pure," he said. "Our screens allow you to define the precise wavelength of the colors you want to combine, and display different shades, such as the color of the sky or the sea, much more accurately."
The team has been working on the project for about a year and a half, said Aschwanden.
Among the practical problems the Swiss researchers still have to overcome are the large internal voltage required to power the display.
Aschwanden said the team had been contacted by a number of well-known technology companies, but he refused to divulge names.
The goal, he said, is to produce the new screens within the next 10 years.