A bendable phone, with a processor that works close to the speed of light and components that can mostly be recycled, is one possibility resulting from an Australian Research Council grant being used by ANU PhD student Ankur Sharma
Mr Sharma is developing a computer chip made from Pentacene, an organic carbon and hydrogen compound. Because it is organic, the chip can eventually be recycled which is a primary reason the Indian-born scientist started working on the project.
“I really like that this research might create some difference. A lot of phones end up in landfill or a lot of energy is invested to recycle electronics and plastic. But Pentacene is just carbon and hydrogen, so it is naturally biodegradable. It doesn’t need to end up in landfill.”
The bendability is a side benefit. The Pentacene processors are built at an atomic scale which gives them flexibility and super strength.
“In its absolute form it is only one carbon atom thick.”
So far developers have made a bendable screen but it has to be plugged into a conventional phone to work, the next step is to make the whole phone flexibile.
The ultra-high speed comes from converting electric impulses into light, which does the hard work of the processor. Photons of light move much faster than electrons of electricity.
Mr Sharma did his undergraduate degree at Aligarh Muslim University near Delhi and was invited to the Australian National University in his honours year. He applied to do his PhD at ANU because of the “wonderful lab facilities” at the Research School of Engineering, which is part of the ANU’s College of Engineering and Computer Science.
In the case of nanotechnology, Australia is ranked No. 4 in the world and India is ranked No. 6. The challenge is to make nanotechnology commercial.
“I am a very small cog in the wheel. But I think both Indian and Australian students have an appetite for commercialisation. Australian universities promote an entrepreneur culture among undergraduates and in India you have a strong start-up culture.”
Early stages of the project involved collaborators from China and Taiwan, who worked on raw materials for the processor and researchers at the University of Wisconsin who carried out simulation studies.
Mr Sharma’s research was first published in the Advanced Materials journal in August.