Cracked smartphone screens: a thing of the past?

Home Technologist Online Cracked smartphone screens: a thing of the past?

A new material with unparalleled shock-absorbing features could soon provide much better damage protection of devices such as mobile phones, scientists report.

Photo of a cracked mobile phone screen

A split second of inattentiveness combined with a hard surface has been a major cause of frustration, infuriation and money problems for many a smartphone owner. But this could be prevented in the near future thanks to a brand new shock-absorbing material.

“This is super exciting. The material has unparalleled shock-absorbing features,” says Anne Ladegaard Skov, a polymer expert from Technical University of Denmark (DTU) who recently wrote an editorial about the new material in the scientific journal Nature.

The Japanese scientists who designed the material, headed by Takuzo Aida at the RIKEN Center for Emergent Matter Science, reported their research findings in the same issue of Nature.

The shock-absorbing material consists of nanoscale titanium sheets placed in a so-called hydrogel – a mixture of water and polymer molecules – with joined surfaces. The nanosheets are extremely small – 150 times thinner than a human hair.

Taking advantage of repulsive forces

The material is special in that the titanium sheets repel rather than attract each other, which is how shock-absorbing materials normally behave. This means that the material absorbs the shock, just like bending your knees to stop jumping on a trampoline. When bending your knees, the energy is transferred sideways rather than continuing up through the body, thereby stopping the movement.

“Shock-absorbing materials generally attract each other, while repulsive materials disperse and break. However, a research team has found a solution to this problem by placing titanium sheets in hydrogel,” Skov explains.

“Due to their repulsive features, the energy is transferred horizontally rather than vertically when the material on the titanium sheet surface is subjected to perpendicular impact. If you drop your mobile phone on the floor, the shock will be transferred sideways rather than affecting the phone.”

High expectations

When a new material is discovered, it usually takes several years before it can be commercialised. But in this case, consumers will probably be able to benefit from the material in the not too distant future.

“The current solid state of the material meets the requirements for application. For simple purposes, such as in mobile phones, the material will probably be available soon,” says Skov, who has high expectations of the material.

“The new hydrogel will surely be developed into many interesting products – for example, it could be used in microelectronic applications, in which the hydrogel could act as a matrix between electronic elements to strongly reduce harmful vibrations,” she concludes in her Nature editorial.

Adapted from article by Mathias Davidsen, DTU News

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