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Undergrad stretches possibilities of flexible electronics

What if a flat-screen TV could be rolled up like a piece of paper? Binghamton University undergraduate Peter Tomlinson can picture it, thanks to his work on flexible electronics.

Flexible electronics are exactly what they sound like. Current technologies include curved-screen phones and computer monitors. Eventually, consumers could see a flexible iPad in stores.

Tomlinson, a junior majoring in physics and mathematics, is involved in the Smart Energy research stream of the Freshman Research Immersion program (FRI), where he started this work by trying to reproduce flexible heterojunctions.

A heterojunction is the basic component of a thin film transistor, which has applications in LED lights and other electronic devices.

Most heterojunction materials crack when they are bent, which disrupts the flow of electricity. Finding heterojunction materials that can bend without cracking allows for the creation of flexible electronics.

This has already been accomplished; Tomlinson’s research builds upon earlier work. His efforts helped to refine the fabrication of a novel material for a piece of the junction.

Tomlinson then conducted research last summer to identify the hurdles that come with fabricating these junctions to set a strong foundation for further research by future FRI students.

“The incoming group of FRI students now working on this project are exploring a novel material that is very similar, chemically, to the one I explored over the summer,” Tomlinson says. “My research has made it so that the same model and parameters should work for this new material that they’re doing the research on.”

The applications also extend to solar panels.

“An LED is the opposite action to a solar cell; a solar cell absorbs light and an LED emits light,” Tomlinson says. “So you can have flexible solar panels that are easier to place than just the regular ones.”

Tomlinson, who grew up around the Finger Lakes, has been passionate about the sciences since high school. He was attracted to physics and math by the challenge of both subjects. “I’m drawn to the mysteries surrounding physics and how it fundamentally describes the world around me,” he says.

Marissa Civic, research assistant professor for the Smart Energy FRI stream, highlights Tomlinson’s dedication. “Peter is a strong student, very interested in science, and enjoys doing research,” she says. “Peter volunteered to do summer research in my lab; he spent hours a day in the lab working on his project as it interested him.”

Tomlinson also enjoys hiking, canoeing, camping and running. In high school he was on the cross country and track teams. “I enjoyed the exercise and being part of a team,” he says. “I now run recreationally and enjoy the days I can meet up with BU’s running club.”

Tomlinson says the flexible electronics project left him with a curiosity about other kinds of research. “I spent two years or so on the FRI project, and I want to get the most out of my college experience,” he says. “I think it would be exciting to explore new research opportunities.”

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