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MIT Technology Review

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  • Zhenan Bao

    Age:
    32

    Walking through the hallways of Bell Labs- where the transistor was invented more than 55 years ago- with Zhenan Bao, one senses that her brain is in high gear. Bao’s ambition is nothing less than to reinvent the transistor by developing organic semiconductors that should make it possible to put electronics everywhere, in everything from wall-sized displays to price stickers on cereal boxes. Although organic semiconductor circuits can’t match the computing power of silicon chips, they are potentially far cheaper to make. Producing silicon chips typically requires multibillion-dollar fabrication plants, but a modified ink-jet or silkscreen printer can pattern dissolved organic semiconductors on a pliable sheet of plastic. Bao crafted a plastic all-prints circuit in 1997. Collaborating with startup E Ink, she then helped create a prototype of electronic paper, a thin, flexible display. Bao subsequently discovered a new class of organic semiconductors that could enable even more complex circuitry. And she’s now working on still better-performing organics. Indeed, Bao’s efforts are driving the filed almost as quickly as she moves through Bell Lab’s hallowed halls.