The Only Book You'll Ever Need?

MASSACHUSETTS INSTITUTE OF Technology researchers are developing an electronic book that looks and feels like an ordinary hardcover. Joseph Jacobson, the physicist heading the project, says the key is "digital" ink particles, 50 microns in diameter, which resemble the toner in laser printers and adhere to a paper-like synthetic substrate. The particles--black on one side, white on the other--flip over when stimulated by an electric charge, just as tiny crystals change position to block or release light in liquid-crystal displays.

The penlight-battery-powered invention will be able to download text from databases on the Internet. Once the data is in the book's memory, the reader will be able to display pages of, say, War and Peace, simply by pressing a button on the book's spine. When one book is finished, a new one can be downloaded and displayed in its place. After five months of development work, Jacobson's five-person team has been able to flip pixels but not form complete letters. A proof of concept prototype is expected next year. The cost of the materials to build one book? About $400.

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