Roll-up TV screens on the way, Tel Aviv U researchers say
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Roll-up TV screens on the way, Tel Aviv U researchers say

Why settle for a tiny image when you’re on the road? Israeli tech will soon let you unfurl a screen and watch in full-size, living color

LG's roll-up screen prototype (Photo credit: Screenshot)
LG's roll-up screen prototype (Photo credit: Screenshot)

Today, you can watch TV on a tablet or a smartphone, using networked apps offered by cable TV companies. But the viewing experience leaves a lot to be desired, with images shrunk down to fit the few inches of the device’s screen.

How about watching TV on the go on a full-sized screen that rolls up for storage and transportation? Tel Aviv University researchers are working on just that, using peptides and DNA to create a material that emits a full range of colors in one pliable pixel layer, allowing it to be attached to a microprocessor or video chip to display images just like rigid LCD and LED screens do.

Patents have already been filed, and several consumer product manufacturers are seriously eyeing the tech, the university said.

“Our material is light, organic, and environmentally friendly,” said Prof. Ehud Gazit, who along with doctoral student Or Berger of the Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology at TAU’s George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences published a paper in the publication Nature Nanotechnology on the technology. “It is flexible, and a single layer emits the same range of light that requires several layers today. By using only one layer, you can minimize production costs dramatically, which will lead to lower prices for consumers as well.”

The paper, a part of Berger’s PhD thesis, discusses several approaches he and Gazit, along with Dr. Yuval Ebenstein and Prof. Fernando Patolsky of the School of Chemistry at TAU’s Faculty of Exact Sciences, manipulated peptides and DNA – two of the basic building blocks of life  – which yielded the new material. The peptides, which are short protein fragments, were embedded with DNA elements to facilitate the self-assembly of unique molecular architectures.

Applying methods such as electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography to observe the molecules in action, the researchers discovered that three of the molecules could self-assemble into ordered structures, into forms that resembled the natural double-helix form of DNA but also exhibited peptide characteristics.

It was, the researchers said, a new kind of material that incorporated the characteristics of both – and it gave off light, said Berger.

“Once we discovered the DNA-like organization, we tested the ability of the structures to bind to DNA-specific fluorescent dyes. To our surprise, the control sample, with no added dye, emitted the same fluorescence as the variable. This proved that the organic structure is itself naturally fluorescent,” and reflected the dyes in their emission of light.

In addition, he added, the material is thin and flexible enough to roll up like a piece of paper.

It’s just a first study, but the ability to manipulate peptides and DNA in this manner promises to open up new areas of research, said a Tel Aviv University spokesperson – and even eventually lead to roll-up screens.

This wouldn’t be the first roll-up screen on the market; LG developed a prototype of a roll-up screen last year, but it doesn’t yet display all colors as the Tel Aviv-developed one does. LG says it expects its TV to be on the market by 2017.

Ramot, TAU’s technology transfer company, which funded the study from its Momentum Fund, has patented the method developed at the university. The researchers are currently building a prototype of the screen and are in talks with major consumer electronics companies regarding the technology.

“Our lab has been working on peptide nanotechnology for over a decade,” said Berger, “but DNA nanotechnology is a distinct and fascinating field as well.”

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