Courtesy of UCLA

The advancement of display-based material technologies has brought about the convergence of light and information. Increasingly sophisticated light-emitting materials demonstrate enhanced versatility in emitting illumination or conveying data—or both.

Engineers at the University of California, Los Angeles have recently developed an organic light-emitting device (OLED) that is both transparent and elastic. Capable of being stretched 1,000 or more times, as well as to double its original size, the flexible material is a promising candidate for wearable computing, foldable electronic devices, adaptable e-wallpaper, and pliable medical devices.

The material is actually comprised of two components: a thin film of electroluminescent polymer and two silver-rubber composite electrodes. Both parts are similarly malleable at room temperature—thus overcoming one of the big hurdles of electronics-integrated clothing, which has been challenged by rigid components with delicate connections between materials.

"The lack of suitable elastic transparent electrodes is one of the major obstacles to the fabrication of stretchable display," said materials science postdoctoral student Jiajie Liang, also the lead author on the study, in a UCLA press release. "Our new transparent, elastic composite electrode has high visual transparency, good surface electrical conductivity, high stretchability and high surface smoothness—all features essential to the fabrication of the stretchable OLED."

Qibing Pei, an engineering and materials science professor, was the principal investigator.

"Our new material is the building block for fully stretchable electronics for consumer devices," Pei said. "Along with the development of stretchable thin-film transistors, we believe that fully stretchable interactive OLED displays that are as thin as wallpaper will be achieved in the near future. And this will give creative electronics designers new dimensions to exploit."

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.