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Stanford engineers develop a stretchable display that could revolutionize how humans interact with electronics

Flexible light-emitting film on finger
Mar 23 2022

By Mckenzie Prillaman

No one would ever imagine crumpling up their smartphone, television or another electronic device. Today’s displays – which are flat, rigid and fragile – lack the ability to reshape to interactively respond to users.

As part of an overarching quest to build “skin-inspired” electronics that are soft and stretchy, Stanford University chemical engineer Zhenan Bao and her research team have been developing a display to change that. Now, after more than three years of work, they show the proof of principle toward a stretchable, potentially reshapable display in a new paper published March 23 in Nature.

Their invention hinges on the discovery of a method to produce a high-brightness elastic light-emitting polymer, which functions like a filament in a lightbulb. The group’s resulting display is made entirely of stretchy polymers – synthetic plastic materials. The device has a maximum brightness at least two times that of a cellphone and can be stretched up to twice its original length without tearing.

“Stretchable displays can allow a new way of interactive human-machine interface,” said Bao, the K. K. Lee Professor in the School of Engineering and senior author of the paper. “We can see the image and interact with it, and then the display can change according to our response.”