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  • Plastic SCs Go with the Flow
Aug 2009
SEATTLE, Aug. 25, 2009 -- Plastic that conducts electricity holds promise for cheaper, thinner and more flexible electronics. The problem is that circuits built with organic materials allow only one type of charge to move through them. But that problem appears to have been solved, as new research from the University of Washington allows transport of both positive and negative charges in organic electronics.

An organic polymer circuit that transports both positive and negative charges. The circuit was created by solution casting of a newly developed material. (Photos: University of Washington)

Organic electronics technology is already available in some gadgets -- the new Sony Walkman that was introduced earlier this summer and the Microsoft Zune HD music player released last week both incorporate organic light-emitting electronic displays.

"The organic semiconductors developed over the past 20 years have one important drawback. It's very difficult to get electrons to move through," said Samson Jenekhe, a UW professor of chemical engineering. "By now having polymer semiconductors that can transmit both positive and negative charges, it broadens the available approaches. This would certainly change the way we do things."

The research will be the cover article in an upcoming issue of the journal Advanced Materials; Jenekhe is lead author. Co-authors are Felix Kim, a doctoral student working with Jenekhe, and graduate student Xugang Guo and assistant professor Mark Watson at the University of Kentucky.

Silicon Valley got its name for a reason: Silicon is the workhorse of today's electronics industry, Jenekhe said. But it is fairly expensive and requires costly manufacturing, and its rigid crystal form does not allow flexible devices.

Closeup of a transistor using the organic material developed at the University of Washington that transports both positive and negative charges.

About 30 years ago it was discovered that some plastics, or polymers, can conduct electricity. Since then researchers have been working to make them more efficient. Organic, or carbon-based, electronics are now used in such things as laptop computers, car audio systems and MP3 players.

A major drawback with existing organic semiconductors is most transmit only positive charges (called "holes" because the moving areas of positive charge are actually places where an electron is missing). In the last decade a few organic materials have been developed that can transport only electrons. But making a working organic circuit has meant carefully layering two complicated patterns on top of one another, one that transports electrons and another one that transports holes.

"Because current organic semiconductors have this limitation, the way they're currently used has to compensate for that, which has led to all kinds of complex processes and complications," Jenekhe said.

For more than a decade Jenekhe's lab has been a leader in developing organic semiconductors that can transmit electrons. Over the past few years the group has created polymers with a donor and an acceptor part, and carefully adjusted the strength of each one. In collaboration with Watson's lab, they have now developed an organic molecule that works to transport both positive and negative charges.

"What we have shown in this paper is that you don't have to use two separate organic semiconductors," Jenekhe said. "You can use one material to create electronic circuits."

The positive-and-negative-charge-transmitting organic circuit developed at UW undergoes a test.

The material would allow organic transistors and other information-processing devices to be built more simply, in a way that is more similar to how inorganic circuits are now made.

The group used the new material to build a transistor designed in the same way as a silicon model and the results show that both electrons and holes move through the device quickly.

The results represent the best performance ever seen in a single-component organic polymer semiconductor, Jenekhe said. Electrons moved five to eight times faster through the UW device than in any other such polymer transistor. A circuit, which consists of two or more integrated devices, generated a voltage gain two to five times greater than previously seen in a polymer circuit.

"We expect people to use this approach," Jenekhe said. "We've opened the way for people to know how to do it."

The paper is available at

The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Ford Foundation.

For more information, visit:

A charged elementary particle of an atom; the term is most commonly used in reference to the negatively charged particle called a negatron. Its mass at rest is me = 9.109558 x 10-31 kg, its charge is 1.6021917 x 10-19 C, and its spin quantum number is 1/2. Its positive counterpart is called a positron, and possesses the same characteristics, except for the reversal of the charge.
That branch of science involved in the study and utilization of the motion, emissions and behaviors of currents of electrical energy flowing through gases, vacuums, semiconductors and conductors, not to be confused with electrics, which deals primarily with the conduction of large currents of electricity through metals.
The technology of generating and harnessing light and other forms of radiant energy whose quantum unit is the photon. The science includes light emission, transmission, deflection, amplification and detection by optical components and instruments, lasers and other light sources, fiber optics, electro-optical instrumentation, related hardware and electronics, and sophisticated systems. The range of applications of photonics extends from energy generation to detection to communications and...
A material whose molecular structure consists of long chains made up by the repetition of many (usually thousands) of similar groups of atoms.
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