Chemists, physicists, and other scientistsand engineers are synthesizing and manipulating a wealth of new organicmaterials in ways that will change the way society interacts with technology.These new materials create novel properties impossible to replicate withsilicon, expanding the world of electronics in ways unimaginable until now.
OrganicElectronics for a Better Tomorrow: Innovation, Accessibility, Sustainabilityexamines where organic electronics are today, where chemical scientistsenvision the field is heading, and the scientific and engineering challengesthat must be met in order to realize that vision.Already, consumersare using organic electronic devices, such as smart phones built with organiclight emitting diode (OLED) displays, often without even being aware of theorganic nature of the electronic technology in hand. The Samsung Galaxy line ofOLED-based smartphones occupies a major share of the global smartphone market.Potential futureapplications are enormous and untold. Organic materials are being studied anddeveloped for their potential to build devices with a flexibility,stretchability and softness(“soft electronics”) not afforded bysilicon or any other inorganic materials -that is, electronic devices that bend, twist, and conform to any surface.Imagine a smartphone that folds like a map. Devices made with organic materialsalso have the potential to interface with biological systems in ways notpossible with inorganic materials. Imagine an artificial skin with a tactile sensitivityapproximating real skin that can be used to treat burns or add functionality toprosthetic limbs.
Potential applications of organicelectronics span a broad range of fields, including medicine and biomedicalresearch, environmental health, information and communications, and nationalsecurity.Because of thelower cost and higher throughput manufacture of organic-based electronicdevices, compared to today’s silicon-based devices, organic electronics alsopromise to expand the use of electronic technology in resource-limited areas ofthe world where supplies are limited or the necessary infrastructure islacking. Already, organic solar cells are being installed on rooftops inAfrican villages that lack access to standard on-grid electricity, providingrural populations with a safer and cheaper alternative to kerosene.Not only doorganic materials promise more innovative and accessible electronictechnologies, they also promise more sustainable electronic technologies. Thepotential for greater sustainability extends across the entire life cycle ofelectronics, beginning with the use of materials that are synthesized, ratherthan mined from the earth, and ending with potentially biodegradable orrecyclable devices. It is not just the devices themselves that promise to bemore eco-friendly than silicon-based electronics, but also their manufacture.Today, the major focus of research and development inorganic electronic is on three main types of existing applications: displaysand lighting, transistors, and solar cells.
The vision for the future is tomove beyond these already existing applications and explore new realms ofelectronic use. The intention is not that organic electronics, or any specifictype of organic electronics, will replace silicon- based electronics.Indeed, organic molecules and materials are often used in combination withsilicon materials. Rather, the vision for the future is one of an expandedelectronic landscape – one filled with new materials that make electronics morefunctional, accessible, and sustainable.The2012 CS3 participants articulated three visions for the future of organicelectronics:1. Organic electronic devices will do thingsthat silicon-based electronics cannot do, expanding the functionality andaccessibility of electronics.2. Organic electronic devices will be moreenergy-efficient and otherwise “eco-friendly” than today’s electronics,contributing to a more sustainable electronic world.
3. Organic electronicdevices will be manufactured using more resource-friendly and energy- efficientprocesses than today’s methods, further contributing to a more sustainableelectronic world.Arguably thegreatest overarching challenge to realizing these visions is creatingelectronic structures at industry- level scale with high yield and uniformity.
This is true regardless of type of material or application. While theelectronics industry has already achieved enormous success with some organicelectronic structures, such as those being used to build OLED-basedsmartphones, most organic electronic structures are being synthesized on onlyvery small scales, with reproducibility in the formation of many materialsbeing a major problem. Until wide-scale industry-level production is achieved,future visions for organic electronics will remain just that – visions.
CS3participants identified four major scientific and technology researchchallenges that must be addressed in order to achieve high yield anduniformity.1. Improve controlledselfassembly. Chemists need to gain better control over the selfassemblyof organic electronic molecules into ordered patterns to ensure that thestructures being assembled are reproducible. Improved controlled selfassemblyrequires a better understanding of the electronic properties of organicmaterials, especially when those materials are in contact with other materials(i.e.
, their interfacial behavior). Only with that knowledge will researchersbe able to predict how organic electronic materials actually perform whenintegrated into devices, and only with those predictions will engineers be ableto develop industry-scale synthetic processes.2. Develop better analytical tools.Better analytical tools are needed todetect and measure what is happening with respect to structure and chemicalcomposition when organic materials are assembled and integrated into electronicstructures and devices, ideally at every step along the way.
Thesetools need to be non-destructive,non-invasive, and high-speed.Improve three-dimensional (3D) processing technology.Many 3. organic electronic structures can be assembled onflexiblesubstrates using existing printingtechnologies.
However, fabrication of 3D organic electronic structures with thesame precision achievable with two dimensional (2D) printing technology remainsa major challenge to reliable high- throughput manufacturing of organicelectronic devices.4. Increase multi-functionality of organic electronicdevices. As chemists gain better control over the synthesis of organicmaterials, theyand their engineering collaborators will be able to build increasinglysophisticated optoelectronic1 andother devices with multiple functions. However, in order to fully realize themultifunctional capacity of organic chemistry, chemists need to broaden theirresearch focus beyond “charge- carrier” transport (i.e., electrons and holes,respectively) and gain a better understanding of optical, magnetic, thermal andother properties.While chemicalscientists have been critical drivers of organic electronics and will continueto serve an essential role in expanding the landscape of organicelectronics, other areas of scientific and engineeringresearch are equally essential.
Chemists, physicists, material scientists andother scientists and engineers must combine their expertise and work together to realize the full potential of organicelectronics. Multidisciplinary research and training programs that bringtogether scientists and engineers from different fields of knowledge, as wellas from different sectors of activity (i.e., academia, industry, government),will facilitate the collaborative effort needed to meet these scientific andtechnological challenges1 An optoelectronic device is anelectronic device that produces orinteracts with light. Organicoptoelectronicdevices already in the marketplace include organic light- emitting diodes(OLEDs) and organic solar cells.