$7.5 million funds work in 'organic' electronics

June 18, 2002 8:33 a.m.

Display Corp., a small publicly traded company in Ewing, N.J., has renewed its funding of Princeton engineers whose research could lead to brighter, cheaper, more versatile flat-panel electronic displays.

The company will provide $7.5 million over five years to fund research in the lab of Stephen Forrest, professor of electrical engineering , as well as the work of one of Forrest's former students who is now at the University of Southern California. The agreement extends and expands a collaboration that began in 1994 and was renewed once before in 1997.

The researchers believe the technology, based on an emerging class of materials called "organic" electronics, could reduce the size and cost of devices that currently use video displays and also open the door for displays to be used in many new ways, such as a pen-sized video screen that rolls up like a window shade. Universal Display already is working with Sony and other electronics makers to use the technology it licensed from Princeton over the last eight years in cell phones and television and computer monitors.

The arrangement with Universal Display has become a model for the increasingly common partnerships that Princeton scientists and engineers are establishing with commercial ventures. It has shown how partnerships with industry can bridge the gap between basic academic science and applied product development, while allowing unfettered, open-ended research, said Forrest.

"The progress we've made under our agreement is truly exciting and remarkable," said Forrest, the James McDonnell Distinguished University Professor. "This has proved to be an invaluable experience for professors, scientists and students."

Before establishing an arrangement with Universal Display, the University had tried unsuccessfully to pitch the display technology directly to large electronics makers. "We were an academic curiosity and no more," said Joseph Montemarano, director for industrial liaison at the University's Center for Photonic and Optoelectronic Materials .

"The talent they brought to bear was to take this academic curiosity, which was clearly an elegant piece of technology, and translate it into terms that the financial world could understand," said Montemarano.

That connection, in turn, makes it easier for scientists to obtain funding for basic science from the federal government, which often values research with real-world applications, Montemarano said. The U.S. military, for example, is funding Princeton research into organic materials for displays, lighting and solar power generation.

Princeton has now grown into a world leader in the area of organic electronics, which uses molecules similar to some found in biology to perform electronic functions now done by silicon and other minerals and metals.

Contact: Marilyn Marks (609) 258-3601