Chemists, physicists, and other scientists
and engineers are synthesizing and manipulating a wealth of new organic
materials in ways that will change the way society interacts with technology.
These new materials create novel properties impossible to replicate with
silicon, expanding the world of electronics in ways unimaginable until now. Organic
Electronics for a Better Tomorrow: Innovation, Accessibility, Sustainability
examines where organic electronics are today, where chemical scientists
envision the field is heading, and the scientific and engineering challenges
that must be met in order to realize that vision.
are using organic electronic devices, such as smart phones built with organic
light emitting diode (OLED) displays, often without even being aware of the
organic nature of the electronic technology in hand. The Samsung Galaxy line of
OLED-based smartphones occupies a major share of the global smartphone market.
applications are enormous and untold. Organic materials are being studied and
developed for their potential to build devices with a flexibility,
stretchability and softness
(“soft electronics”) not afforded by
silicon 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 materials
also have the potential to interface with biological systems in ways not
possible with inorganic materials. Imagine an artificial skin with a tactile sensitivity
approximating real skin that can be used to treat burns or add functionality to
Potential applications of organic
electronics span a broad range of fields, including medicine and biomedical
research, environmental health, information and communications, and national
Because of the
lower cost and higher throughput manufacture of organic-based electronic
devices, compared to today’s silicon-based devices, organic electronics also
promise to expand the use of electronic technology in resource-limited areas of
the world where supplies are limited or the necessary infrastructure is
lacking. Already, organic solar cells are being installed on rooftops in
African villages that lack access to standard on-grid electricity, providing
rural populations with a safer and cheaper alternative to kerosene.
Not only do
organic materials promise more innovative and accessible electronic
technologies, they also promise more sustainable electronic technologies. The
potential for greater sustainability extends across the entire life cycle of
electronics, beginning with the use of materials that are synthesized, rather
than mined from the earth, and ending with potentially biodegradable or
recyclable devices. It is not just the devices themselves that promise to be
more eco-friendly than silicon-based electronics, but also their manufacture.
Today, the major focus of research and development in
organic electronic is on three main types of existing applications: displays
and lighting, transistors, and solar cells. The vision for the future is to
move beyond these already existing applications and explore new realms of
electronic use. The intention is not that organic electronics, or any specific
type of organic electronics, will replace silicon-
Indeed, organic molecules and materials are often used in combination with
silicon materials. Rather, the vision for the future is one of an expanded
electronic landscape – one filled with new materials that make electronics more
functional, accessible, and sustainable.
2012 CS3 participants articulated three visions for the future of organic
Organic electronic devices will do things
that silicon-based electronics cannot do, expanding the functionality and
accessibility of electronics.
Organic electronic devices will be more
energy-efficient and otherwise “eco-friendly” than today’s electronics,
contributing to a more sustainable electronic world.
3. Organic electronic
devices will be manufactured using more resource-friendly and energy- efficient
processes than today’s methods, further contributing to a more sustainable
greatest overarching challenge to realizing these visions is creating
electronic structures at industry- level scale with high yield and uniformity.
This is true regardless of type of material or application. While the
electronics industry has already achieved enormous success with some organic
electronic structures, such as those being used to build OLED-based
smartphones, most organic electronic structures are being synthesized on only
very small scales, with reproducibility in the formation of many materials
being a major problem. Until wide-scale industry-level production is achieved,
future visions for organic electronics will remain just that – visions.
participants identified four major scientific and technology research
challenges that must be addressed in order to achieve high yield and
1. Improve controlled
selfassembly. Chemists need to gain better control over the selfassembly
of organic electronic molecules into ordered patterns to ensure that the
structures being assembled are reproducible. Improved controlled selfassembly
requires a better understanding of the electronic properties of organic
materials, especially when those materials are in contact with other materials
(i.e., their interfacial behavior). Only with that knowledge will researchers
be able to predict how organic electronic materials actually perform when
integrated into devices, and only with those predictions will engineers be able
to develop industry-scale synthetic processes.
Develop better analytical tools.
Better analytical tools are needed to
detect and measure what is happening with respect to structure and chemical
composition when organic materials are assembled and integrated into electronic
structures and devices, ideally at every step along the way. These
tools need to be non-destructive,
non-invasive, and high-speed.
Improve three-dimensional (3D) processing technology.
organic electronic structures can be assembled on
substrates using existing printing
technologies. However, fabrication of 3D organic electronic structures with the
same precision achievable with two dimensional (2D) printing technology remains
a major challenge to reliable high- throughput manufacturing of organic
Increase multi-functionality of organic electronic
devices. As chemists gain better control over the synthesis of organic
and their engineering collaborators will be able to build increasingly
sophisticated optoelectronic1 and
other devices with multiple functions. However, in order to fully realize the
multifunctional capacity of organic chemistry, chemists need to broaden their
research focus beyond “charge- carrier” transport (i.e., electrons and holes,
respectively) and gain a better understanding of optical, magnetic, thermal and
scientists have been critical drivers of organic electronics and will continue
to serve an essential role in expanding the landscape of organic
electronics, other areas of scientific and engineering
research are equally essential. Chemists, physicists, material scientists and
other scientists and engineers must combine their expertise
and work together to realize the full potential of organic
electronics. Multidisciplinary research and training programs that bring
together scientists and engineers from different fields of knowledge, as well
as from different sectors of activity (i.e., academia, industry, government),
will facilitate the collaborative effort needed to meet these scientific and
1 An optoelectronic device is an
electronic device that produces or
interacts with light. Organic
devices already in the marketplace include organic light- emitting diodes
(OLEDs) and organic solar cells.