3M’s new silver nanowire films could lead to large, interactive, and ultimately flexible displays

3M will begin selling flexible transparent conductive films made of silver nanowires for use in touch screens. These nanomaterials could enable wider adoption of large touch screens for interactive signs, displays, and personal computers. And the flexible films may come to be used in future foldable, curvy personal electronics, too.

The films using silver nanowires produced by Cambrios, a Sunnyvale, California, startup founded in 2004 by two materials scientists: Evelyn Hu, now at Harvard University, and MIT’s Angela Belcher. The company’s silver nanowires are a few nanometers in diameter and a few micrometers long, and come suspended in inks. The inks can be spread out onto a surface to make sparse films. The silver wires are designed to spread in random networks, like nano pick-up sticks, so that they won’t cause a pattern that’s distracting to the eye—an irritating problem that plagued earlier metal-mesh touch screens

lexible feel: Conductive transparent films using nano materials developed by Cambrios Technologies make it possible to make flexible, large touch screen displays.

Touch screens built on plastic should be thinner and lighter still—a selling point for cell phone makers.

3M is not the first company to start selling a touch screen product that uses Cambrios inks. In October 2012, Cambrios announced that its inks were being used in LG’s all-in-one computer and some displays; the Cambrios materials are also found in cell phones and tablets made by NEC in Japan and Huawei in China. Supplying nanowires to 3M, however, will enable the company to get into more devices. 3M is making the touch screen films for device makers but has not yet named customers.

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