Kent State at the Forefront of Liquid-Display Research
Liquid crystals already make cell phone and laptop displays possible. They’re used in GPS units, digital cameras, parking meters, gas pumps, electronic games and fish finders.
These tiny crystals – a phase of matter between liquid and solid – have an even brighter future, and the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State University is leading the way.
Cell phone “skins” that change color; sports goggles that adjust for light conditions. The next generation of electronic books, in color; tiny sensors to detect biological or chemical threats. These new applications are already on the market or will be soon.
“Liquid crystals are very sensitive to small changes in their environment,” says Phil Bos, associate director of the Liquid Crystal Institute and a Kent State professor. “They show a huge visible effect with a small change.”
The pioneering work of the institute, established in 1965, sparked greater interest among scientists for studying the potential of this in-between stage of matter first discovered in the 19th century.
Until now, most liquid-crystal displays and applications involved two plates of glass with the sensitive structures in the middle, but Kent Displays Inc., a leader in the field, has rolled out new technology that uses plastic.
“It opens up a whole new ball game,” says Allan Davis, the company’s senior director for business development. “There are a lot more surfaces. Displays can be anywhere – sewn into clothing, on refrigerators, sides of cell phones, a memo pad on the back of a cell phone.”
Crystal's Huge Potential
Bos says the potential for lower-cost, user friendly electronic books and similar applications is huge.
“Kent Displays is the go-to place in the world for those interested in that technology,” he says. “Their stuff is on the radar of some of the biggest companies in the world.”
A former director of the institute started Kent Displays in 1993, and many of its engineers are graduates of the university.
AlphaMicron Inc. in Kent is working on digital visors, rear-view mirrors that dim automatically and a new generation of “smart windows.” It provided liquid-crystal sequins for an inaugural gown Indiana’s first lady wore in 2007.
CoAdNa Phototonics develops its switches and equalizers for fiber-optic systems in nearby Stow. And Hana Microdisplay Technology Inc. set up shop in nearby Twinsburg because of the proximity to the institute.
“We were the first university to have an institute dedicated to this field of study,” says Jim Maxwell, the Liquid Crystal Institute’s spokesman. “It became a really great model for others to follow.”