Researchers from Purdue University have developed a polymer film which is transparent. It looks and feels like glass and conducts electricity. The material can be easily manufactured on a large scale. It is also less expensive than the commonly-used, inorganic indium tin oxide and is more conductive than other polymers. It is pretty hard to create a balance between transparency and conductivity in materials. Glass is transparent, however, it is an insulator. Therefore to create things like smartphone touchscreens, it is often coated with indium tin oxide, which makes it conductive.
Polymers are very cheap to manufacture but the process which makes them conductive is very expensive. The researchers at Purdue also started with transparent, non-conductive material and changed into a conductive material. Bryan Boudouris, the author of the study, said, “Our idea was, could we use polymers easier to make on a large scale but also get them to be electronically active? The precursors of this new polymer are made on the ton scale. Having a conducting transparent material from carbon-based materials would be significant.”
The key to the transparent conductivity were certain radical groups which have reactive groups of atoms. The team started with the radical groups which were already transparent but not conductive. They carried out simulations on how many would be needed to make a polymer conductive. On the results of those simulations, the team synthesized a material which had a higher density of radical sites. The material was also required to be soft enough that these groups can communicate inside it. So the material was developed to flow just above the room temperature.
The final result is a polymer which is transparent and conducts electricity at the same time. The new material is not as conductive as indium tin oxide, however, the researchers have told that they are working on improving the conductivity to close the gap. Fingers crossed!