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A TV on your T shirt? Imperial physicist wins award for groundbreaking display technology research

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-Department of Physics
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-Society for Information Display
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By Abigail Smith
Friday 14 October 2005

Basic research that could dramatically change the way we watch TV and interact with consumer electronics devices has been recognised by the award of a prestigious prize to Imperial physicist Donal Bradley Opens in new window.

Professor Bradley, head of the Experimental Solid State Physics group, has been awarded this years Jan Rajchman Prize for outstanding research on flat panel displays alongside colleagues Jeremy Burroughes and Richard Friend of Cambridge.

Professor Donal Bradley demonstrates his prize-winning PLED technology

The prize recognises the team's groundbreaking discovery that certain plastics can efficiently emit light when positive and negative charges are simultaneously injected into them from suitable electrodes. This finding enabled the development of polymer light emitting diodes (PLEDs) that are now playing a key role in next generation display technology.

Because PLEDs are emissive, they offer significant advantages over traditional display technology. They use less power and can be used to create vibrant displays that have high levels of brightness and contrast and a wide viewing angle.

Their plastic nature also enables flexible structures and allows processing from solution so that full-colour displays can be manufactured using approaches such as ink-jet printing.

These properties mean the new technology has the potential to radically change how and where we can use a computer or watch television, according to Professor Bradley.

"As this technology develops, it will have all sorts of possibilities for new products, such as flexible displays that can be worn as accessories or even clothing," he explains. "PLEDs are ideal for portable devices, since they are light, durable and battery-friendly and at the same time there is absolutely no compromise on the quality of the display characteristics."

In order to develop the technology, Professor Bradley and his partners founded the company Cambridge Display Technology (Nasdaq: OLED) in 1992. CDT is working with manufacturers and product designers to bring the research to a wider market. These include the electronics company Philips, which in 2002 introduced a monochrome PLED as an information display on a mens electric shaver, used by James Bond in the film Die Another Day and now on sale on most UK high streets. Philips has followed this with a sub-display in its Magic Mirror mobile phone and other manufacturers are joining in with a range of innovative products. Professor Bradley adds:

"A lot of small portable devices currently rely on relatively low-quality displays. Power consumption is a serious issue for backlit liquid crystal displays and contrast is also problematic for outdoor use. This new technology can make high quality displays available to products such as video mobile phones, PDAs and digital cameras and give them the kind of clarity you usually only get on much larger screens."

Large screens could benefit from this technology, according to Professor Bradley, who is impressed by the demonstrator prototypes produced by companies such as Seiko Epson.

"These offer excellent picture quality in the 40 inch diagonal space that has until now been the preserve of plasma displays," he says.

This Prize follows the award of the European Union 2003 Descartes Prize for excellence in collaborative research to a team including Professor Bradley that has been instrumental in developing the PLED technology. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2004 and is also a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

The Jan Rajchman Prize is awarded by the Society for Information Display in recognition of outstanding scientific or technical achievement in research on flat panel displays.