AKRON, Ohio-- Smartphones have become a huge part of our daily lives but they have one big weakness.
The glass touch screens easily shatter and replacing them is costly.
To make the glass screens conductive they are coated at a high temperature with a material called indium tin oxide (ITO).
Polymer screens that are more flexible will not shatter and cannot withstand the high heat required to make them touch sensitive using the same process.
But researchers at the University of Akron's Department of Polymer Science said they have developed a process that bonds microscopic copper nano wires to a thin sheet of polymer that not only creates a new touch screen that is flexible and conductive, it is also tough.
"We developed this technique which can get very strong connection between the nanowires and the polymer substrate which makes the whole conducting film become very tough. It can survive a thousand times of bending. It can be scotch taped repeatedly without changing its properties," says assistant professor Dr. Yu Zhu.
The process bonds a web of wires so fine to the clear polymer sheet that it appears to be completely transparent.
Zhu also claims the new creation is more conductive than current glass screens.
Because it is so flexible and durable it may ultimately have application in wearable technologies that we have not yet even dreamed of.
"You need all these screens to be flexible and bendable. That will be a huge potential market for the flexible transparent electrodes," said Dr. Zhu.
Zhu believes it is easily possible to scale up the production to create large sheets of the new film that can be used as screens for televisions and computers and can be cut into smaller sizes for MP3 players, in-car computers as well as on smartphones.
He also believes the cost of production can be less than the cost for the current glass screens.
There is no timetable for how soon the new screens might start to appear in stores but Zhu said he has already been getting interest from manufacturers.
"Ultimately I hope this film can be used on all the smartphones and you don't worry about if you break your touch screen anymore," said Zhu, who calculates most people trade in their old phones every two or three years
"You can use it forever until you don't like it," says Zhu.