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Researchers take first steps to create biodegradable displays

16 October 2015

University of Missouri (UM) researchers are on the path to creating biodegradable electronics by using organic components in screen displays.

Damaged? Throw it away. The non-recyclability of electronics is a growing problem (image: Shutterstock)

"Current mobile phones and electronics are not biodegradable and create significant waste when they're disposed," says UM's Professor Suchismita Guha. "This discovery creates the first biodegradable active layer in organic electronics, meaning - in principle - we can eventually achieve full biodegradability."

Guha, along with graduate student Soma Khanra, collaborated with a team from the Federal University of ABC (UFABC) in Brazil to develop organic structures that could be used to light handheld device screens. Using peptides, or proteins, researchers were able to demonstrate that these tiny structures, when combined with a blue light-emitting polymer, could successfully be used in displays.

"These peptides can self-assemble into beautiful nanostructures or nanotubes, and, for us, the main goal has been to use these nanotubes as templates for other materials," says Professor Guha. "By combining organic semiconductors with nanomaterials, we were able to create the blue light needed for a display. However, in order to make a workable screen for your mobile phone or other displays, we'll need to show similar success with red and green light-emitting polymers."

An illustration showing a theoretical simulation of the distribution of the polymer on peptide nanotubes and an electron microscopy image of the nanocomposite (image: Suchi Guha/University of Missouri)

The scientists also discovered that by using peptide nanostructures they were able to use less of the polymer. Using less to create the same blue light means that the nanocomposites achieve almost 85 percent biodegradability.

"By using peptide nanostructures, which are 100 percent biodegradable, to create the template for the active layer for the polymers, we are able to understand how electronics themselves can be more biodegradable," Guha said. "This research is the first step and the first demonstration of using such biology to improve electronics."

The study appears as the inside cover article in Advanced Materials Interfaces.


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