A Plastic Palette For Cheaper, Safer Laptops

Two years ago, scientists at England's Cambridge University discovered plastics that emit green light when electrified. The finding raised hopes that cheap plastics could replace the expensive and toxic compounds, such as gallium arsenide, that are used to make flat-panel color displays for laptop computers. Now, the next step may be at hand. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have come up with a plastic that can be "tuned" to emit light of varying colors, which is critical for color displays.

Their plastic, a type of poly p-phenylene vinylene, is a so-called conjugated polymer that combines easily with other plastics. That makes it possible to design plastics that emit yellow, green, and even exotic blue light. UMass polymer scientist Frank Karasz says the plastic is easily converted into ultrathin sheets. Thin films are prized because they release light at lower voltages than thicker materials require.