Researchers in South Australia are using nanotechnology to develop substances they hope will one day result in digital paper.
The research is being carried out at the Ian Wark Research Institute, the Australia Research Council's Special Research Centre for Particle and Material Interfaces at the University of South Australia.
The Institute specialises in designer surfaces, coatings literally a few molecules thick which are created in order to confer useful properties to existing materials. An example of surfaces worked on at the Institute includes an infection-resistant coating for hip implants. While the coating does not change the properties of the implant, it greatly reduces the chances of infections or rejection.
Dr John Ralston, director of the Institute and professor of physical chemistry says the Institute's researchers can almost literally assemble their designer substances molecule by molecule. This technique is currently being used to investigate a coating for glass which, hen stimulated by electricity, could eject dust to become self cleaning. The research for this substance, Dr. Ralston says, may also result in digital paper.
"You could lay a substance down on paper, much less than a micron in thickness," he explains. "When it is stimulated it could self-clean, for reusable paper. You could also create displays on paper if you could array the substance as pixels."
Ralston cannot commit to a timeframe for delivering digital paper, but believes it will take between two and 20 years to deliver digital paper using designer surfaces. "We understand what we need to do conceptually," he says. "The basic science is actually being worked on and the proof of the principles is here today."