Between foldable phones and Corsair's Xeneon Flex, bendable displays have been making their way into consumer electronics for a few years now. But researchers at the University of Chicago's Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering have created and demonstrated a thin OLED display that isn’t just flexible, but also stretchable up to twice its original size.
There are surely a multitude of projects flexible and stretchable OLED displays could be useful for, with the researchers touting “wearable electronics and health sensors to foldable computer screens.” The material was developed by Sihong Wang and Juan de Pablo at the Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering, part of the University of Chicago.
According to the university’s blog post, creating stretchable OLEDs was indeed the goal of the researchers (inventions / discoveries aren’t always so targeted). Wang noted that current state-of-the-art OLED displays are “very brittle,” with no inherent stretchability.
A cornerstone of material science is that stretchable materials commonly use long polymers with bendable molecular chains. With their advanced polymer knowledge and understanding of both stretching and electroluminescence at the molecular level, the scientists created a framework to engineer optimal materials for OLEDs.
They began with computational predictions for new flexible electroluminescent polymers. Inspired by prototype success, they went on to choose the material with the most efficient “thermally activated delayed fluorescence.” Apparently, this will be important to creating materials that are competitive with commercial OLED technologies.
During stretching to 100% strain, the light-emitting efficiency of our TADF polymers remains very stable. The achieved EQE of 10% is more than twice of the efficiencies from all the previously reported stretchable OLEDs, which are all based on first-generation fluorescence. pic.twitter.com/6I4QEW0K82April 6, 2023
Wang has a track record in stretchable electronics, previously developing neuromorphic computing chips which could be flexed and stretched. He told the University of Chicago blog that the development of a stretchable OLED will help in realizing his “overall dream” to make stretchable versions of all the essential computing components. This display / light emitting component is a major step toward that goal.
To build on the work they have done thus far, the development team has a number of plans already in place. For example, the team wants to add more colors to the stretchable OLED display’s gamut. Efficiency and performance improvements are also on the near-term list. Eventually, it is hoped that the stretchable OLED will offer “the same level of performance that existing commercial technologies have,” said Wang.