The high-tech liquid crystal display (LCD) that has become ubiquitous in our laptops and desktop computer monitors relies on a decidedly low-tech manufacturing process: To align the liquid crystals, a velvet-covered roller rubs down the polymer film on which they are to be deposited. The technique has worked well enough for small LCDs, but it is inherently dirty and can leave a disruptive static charge, so manufacturers of larger displays with higher resolution have sought a better way.
The researchers at IBM Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and the company's other facilities may have found a solution. Reporting in the May 3 issue of Nature, they describe how 50- to 500-eV ions scanned across 3- to 4-nm-thick diamondlike carbon films yield acceptable substrates for aligning liquid crystals. Both 15- and 22-in. LCDs constructed with the technique are reportedly indistinguishable from those made with the rubbing roller.
The noncontact method is cleanroom-compatible and has the potential to lower production costs by integrating it into the manufacturing process. The company hopes to bring it to the factory floor this year and may license it to other manufacturers.
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