One day in 2010, Rutgers physicist Vitaly Podzorov watched a store employee showcase a kitchen gadget that vacuum-seals food in plastic. The demo stuck with him. The simple concept – an airtight seal around pieces of food – just might apply to his research: developing flexible electronics using lightweight organic semiconductors for products such as video displays or solar cells.
"Organic transistors, which switch or amplify electronic signals, hold promise for making video displays that bend like book pages or roll and unroll like posters," said Podzorov. But traditional methods of fabricating a part of the transistor known as the gate insulator often end up damaging the transistor's delicate semiconductor crystals.
Drawing inspiration from the food-storage gadget, Podzorov and his colleagues tried an experiment. They suspended a thin polymer membrane above the organic crystal and created a vacuum underneath, causing the membrane to collapse gently and evenly onto the crystal's surface. The result: a smooth, defect-free interface between the organic semiconductor and the gate insulator.