Intelligent Machines

The Printable Transistor

Bell Labs rethinks the transistor-as cheap, flexible, and organic.

A half century ago, researchers at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ, changed the world with their introduction of the transistor. Since then, the devices have evolved, becoming smaller, faster, and ubiquitous-finding their way into everything from computers to toasters. But today’s silicon transistors are still too expensive or inflexible for some applications. Howard Katz and his colleagues at Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs hope to solve these problems using not silicon but organic chemistry.

Organic semiconductors, Katz says, would be cheap, easy to manufacture, and printable on flexible plastics that could easily cover large, irregular areas. “If you can’t take advantage of one of those attributes, then you may as well use a silicon chip,” Katz says. The materials already have been used to create electronic paperlike prototypes-cheap, bendable display surfaces that could one day replace paper. Organic transistors might also be used in toys, sensors, or in the best-case scenario, radio frequency identification tags-a sort of price tag of the future-that could instantly relay inventory and purchase information to a store’s computers. But commercial use of organic semiconductors is still several years off, Katz says. “Every part of this needs more research-making it reliable, being able to make a process that you can do over and over again with available equipment, doing it on materials that are flexible.” In his lab, Katz took Technology Review senior associate editor, Erika Jonietz, through the process of testing one of dozens of compounds he and his team are developing.

Tech Obsessive?
Become an Insider to get the story behind the story — and before anyone else.

Subscribe today

Uh oh–you've read all of your free articles for this month.

Insider Premium
$179.95/yr US PRICE

More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Premium.
  • Insider Premium {! insider.prices.premium !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Our award winning magazine, unlimited access to our story archive, special discounts to MIT Technology Review Events, and exclusive content.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Bimonthly magazine delivery and unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Access to the magazine PDF archive—thousands of articles going back to 1899 at your fingertips

    Special discounts to select partner offerings

    Discount to MIT Technology Review events

    Ad-free web experience

    First Look: exclusive early access to important stories, before they’re available to anyone else

    Insider Conversations: listen in on in-depth calls between our editors and today’s thought leaders

/
You've read all of your free articles this month. This is your last free article this month. You've read of free articles this month. or  for unlimited online access.