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Motorola puts nanotubes in screens

Motorola Labs is developing a large flat-panel display that uses carbon nanotubes. Researchers say the technology could be cheaper than plasma or LCD screens.

Motorola is researching a new type of large flat-panel display that the company says has the potential to be cheaper than plasma or liquid-crystal display screens.

The new screen technology uses carbon nanotubes, which are long, thin strands of specialized carbon molecules. The material is popular with researchers who are investigating its use in everything from optic cabling to antibacteria coatings.

The screen, dubbed a "nano emissive display" or NED, is being developed by Motorola Labs, the research arm of the electronics giant.

"The technology enables manufacturers to design large flat-panel displays that exceed the image quality characteristics of plasma and LCD screens at a lower cost," according to a statement from the lab.

Motorola is in discussions with electronics manufacturers in Europe and Asia to license the technology for commercialization.

A low-cost, flat-panel wall-mounted television is among the devices that could incorporate the technology.

Motorola found a way to grow the nanotubes at low temperatures--a key breakthrough, because the substrate with which they must bond, such as glass or transistors, are heat-sensitive.

The lab also created a method to precisely place the nanotubes individually on a surface material. The ability to place the material directly on a substrate while controlling spacing, size and length, provides a high-quality image with optimized electron emissions, brightness, color purity and resolution for flat-panel displays, the lab said.

Researchers around the world are looking into using carbon nanotubes for flat-panel displays. The molecules emit electrons when an electric current is applied to them. An array of cells composed of carbon nanotubes could be used to "paint" images on a screen, if individual cells within the array can be made to turn on and off fast enough in a coordinated fashion.

Elsewhere, scientists at IBM Research have discovered a new way to force carbon nanotubes to emit light, which could eventually lead to advances in fiber-optic technology. Big Blue also has shown off a new process for fabricating carbon nanotubes that could be incorporated into processors, a breakthrough that could lead to more powerful computers in coming decades.

John Lui of CNETAsia reported from Singapore, and CNET News.com's Michael Kanellos contributed to this report from San Francisco.