Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Magic Painting Changes with Heat

There are at least two approaches to creating paper-like computer screens and cell phones that roll up or fold. You could go the route that Samsung is pioneering with smart phones they're making ever more flexible, or you could start with paper and make it smarter.

L.-O. Hennerdal and M. Berggren
Appl. Phys. Lett. 99, 183303 (2011)

Lars-Olov Hennerdal and Magnus Berggren of Linkoping University in Sweden are checking out the second option. They have a long way to go before they will have a piece of paper that acts like a computer display, but they've already made a sheet that can display two different images at the flick of a switch.

The key to the transforming art is thermochromic (TC) ink, which becomes transparent when heated. The first step in creating the versatile art is to print one image with relatively conventional printing techniques, then overlay it with an image made with the temperature-sensitive ink. In order to switch between pictures, they apply a heating layer to the back side to control the painting temperature. When the painting is a cool, you see the image painted with TC ink. When it's heated the TC image disappears and the underlying image shows up.

The pictures above are actual examples of one of the image-changing paintings. The quality is a bit rough, and the scenes themselves look like the kind of thing you might find hanging over a love seat in a two-star motel room, but the potential is awesome.

Can you imagine having a house filled with these sorts of paintings? If you don't want your Mondrian fanatic friends to know that you secretly love Warhol, just flick the switch and your pop art magically turns to neo-plastic abstractions (thanks, Wikipedia!). Even better, wall paper made of this stuff could totally redecorate your room in seconds.

As it stands, the technology falls a bit short of true smart paper. Maybe we could just call it clever art for the time being. A journal article describing the research is free to read from the American Institute of Physics publication Applied Physics Letters.

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