Imagine a smartphone you can roll up and slip into your shirt pocket. Or a tablet that can be folded like a newspaper and slipped in your back pocket. It's an idea that's been tossed around in science fiction for a years, but now it's a small step closer to reality because researchers at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, have developed the world's first flexible silicon.
The crystal structure that makes silicon a widely used semiconductor also means it's very brittle and resists bending. So while we're slowly seeing the advent of flexible displays, they're always attached to a controller filled with chips and microprocessors that don't bend along with it.
But the breakthrough at Sun Yat-sen University — which involved vaporising silicon monoxide powder and then cooling it until the particles collected into paper-like interwoven nanowires — means that almost every component in a device could be made flexible one day. Of course, that 'one day' is years and years away while the researchers work to create larger and more usable sheets of this new material. But eventually your morning newspaper could be far more interactive than just the crossword puzzle. [Nano Letters via NewScientist]