Water: a path to greener chemistry

Behind every LCD screen, there are metal components that require high-quality UV exposure in order for the television or iPhone displays to work more efficiently.

Higher quality metals used in LCDs produce faster pixels, which results in better quality devices.

“We’re looking at elements that are more commonly available and affordable like tin, zinc and aluminum,” said Shawn Decker, a Ph.D. candidate in the department of chemistry and a member of the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry. “Our goal is to discover ways to process these materials in more sustainable and less energy-consuming ways.”

Traditionally the materials that go into making electronic devices have been processed using various types of vacuum chambers, which takes a lot of energy, according to Decker. This process is of concern to Decker and his colleagues because it is inefficient and wasteful.

Recognizing the vital need to lessen the energy that goes into the production of these materials, the CSMC’s research is looking at cutting down the waste of materials and energy by focusing on more environmentally friendly compounds and solvents.

For this reason, one of the main solvents being used within the laboratory research is water.

The CSMC is a Phase-II Center for Chemical Innovation and is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It is the brainchild of Doug Keszler, a distinguished professor in the department of chemistry at OSU and the current director of the center.

Maintaining a strong emphasis on research collaboration, the CSMC brings together university, industry and community partners.

There are six university collaborators involved with furthering research discovery within the CSMC: Oregon State University, University of Oregon, Washington University in St Louis, Rutgers University, UC Davis and UC Berkeley. Hewlett Packard, IBM and Intel are a few of the CSMC’s industry partners.

The CSMC is comprised of researchers from various disciplines including inorganic and computational chemists, mechanical engineers, material science specialists, physicists and electrical engineers.

The industry strives to make displays on electronic devices, like the iPhone or the flat screen television, thinner and thinner.

The overarching goal for CSMC researchers and its industry partners is to produce materials that will in turn shrink the electrical components and all of the parts that go into making these displays.

“These devices can take up less space and be nice and flush against your living-room wall or fit better in your coat pocket,” Decker said.

The center is working with different metals that are low-cost and reusable, so the energy it takes to produce these new materials is reduced.

Sumit Saha, a synthetic chemist, joined the CSMC this past fall as a postdoctoral research scholar.

Saha is focused on cultivating some of these new materials by working specifically with organometallic compounds, which are organic and inorganic metals combined.

This combination of the old technology (organic materials only) with the new (inorganic materials) is a bridge toward becoming more sustainable in the industry.

The opportunity to see how the CSMC’s research performs outside of the lab on the larger scale within industry is important for the researchers in order to recognize what the full potential and benefits are for society, according to Saha.

“It is a great center to work … to commercialize (students’ and faculty’s) research with the potential of starting up a new company,” Saha said. “Researchers need to share our science with the community in order to see if its going to be applicable or not.”

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