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Virtuous Circle

February 28, 2003

Looks aren’t everything. But in the world of computing, as elsewhere, they mean a lot. Your laptop spends much of its power on its pretty graphic screen display. One reason: The light produced to illuminate a conventional flat-panel display has to be polarized, which means stripping away more than half of the light-the part that’s polarized in the wrong direction-and throwing it away. University of Rochester researchers are developing a new class of materials called liquid crystal glass that, when hit by ultraviolet light, emit circularly polarized light with 99 percent efficiency. Circularly polarized light (in which the direction of polarization constantly rotates) makes for brighter screens with better contrast than current displays. Avoiding the need to discard half the light generated would cut power consumption and thus extend battery life; this efficiency might also enable such technologies as 3-D displays. Kaiser Electronics in San Jose, Calif., is exploring display and eyewear applications of the materials.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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