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Plastic electronics technology

for gadgets that are flexible, disposable and printable East Anglia,

Lines of copper printed on a roll of transparent plastic.
Copper printed on a polyester flexible circuit.

Plastic electronics (also known as printed or organic electronics) is a technology that is predicted to change the way electronics are developed and consumed. By printing electronics directly onto substrates, scientists are hoping to pave the way towards innovative products such as smartphones and tablets with bendy screens; intelligent packaging to protect goods, prevent counterfeiting or detect when products are past their shelf life; and low-cost solar cells integrated into buildings and vehicles.

Conventional semiconductor electronics are based on components such as resistors, diodes, capacitors and silicon/gallium arsenide chips soldered onto a printed circuit board. Plastic electronics offers a way to cut manufacturing costs by printing these components directly onto a surface using carbon-based semiconductive inks at a fraction of the cost.

Much of the groundwork for this new technology was laid in the 1980s at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. In 1989, Jeremy Burroughes (born 1960), Donal Bradley and Richard Friend showed that ‘conjugated polymer diodes could emit light when electrically stressed’. Their 1989 patent led to the founding of Cambridge Display Technology Ltd and, together with a pivotal 1990 Nature paper, the launch of a number of energy-efficient, low-cost and durable plastic electronic devices.

Science Museum

East Anglia
University of Cambridge
Key Individuals
Jeremy Burroughes, Donal Bradley, Richard Friend,