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Boffin builds better display from... a cuttlefish

Ultra low-power reflective display

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Cuttlefish have inspired boffins from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop a screen that uses less than one-hundredth the power of an LCD TV.

The mollusc’s ability to change its skin colour extremely quickly prompted Edwin Thomas, an MIT professor, to create a prototype screen that displays images by reflecting light – rather than creating it.

As a result, Thomas’ screen only uses a few volts of electricity. Admittedly, though, the display only measures several square inches but it's just one micron – one millionth of a metre – thick.

It consists of up to 30 alternating layers of polystyrene and poly-2 vinyl – a conductive material that expands between the polystyrene layers when a voltage is applied to it.

Changing its thickness changes the wavelengths of the light it reflects. Non-visible wavelengths, such as ultraviolet, can also be reflected, given the right thickness of material.

But Stephen Foulger, a professor at Clemson University in North America, told website Discovery that such screens have a limited viewing angle and can only be used in a well lit areas.

So you may never see a TV based on this technology, but it has the potential to be used in electronic ink-based gadgets and on billboards. Thomas said he also hopes to build a self-assembly kit for use by children in chemistry classes. ®

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