The problem of cracked phone screens could become a thing of the past, thanks to groundbreaking new research conducted at the University of Queensland.

And it could potentially revolutionise a lot more than just smartphone displays.

A global team of researchers, led by the university’s Dr Jingwei Hou, Professor Lianzhou Wang and Professor Vicki Chen, have unlocked the technology to produce a new type of composite glass for smartphones as well as televisions, computer screens and LED lighting.

The promising research shows next-generation screens could be manufactured with glass that is not only unbreakable, but also delivers crystal clear image quality across a range of devices.

Creating a new type of nanocrystal material, the researchers believe it paves the way for an array of possibilities beyond consumer products.

“This discovery opens up a new generation of nanocrystal-glass composites for energy conversion and catalysis,” said Chen.

The magic of binding light-sensitive nanocrystals

The nanocrystals in the new composite material, called lead-halide perovskites, have light-emitting properties – and this discovery is a huge step forward in perovskite nanocrystal technology.

“Not only can we make these nanocrystals more robust, but we can tune their opto-electronic properties with fantastic light emission efficiency and highly desirable white light LEDs,“ Chen explained.

Usually, nanocrystals are extremely sensitive to light, heat, air and water – even water vapour in the air would kill the current devices in a matter of minutes.

Because of these limitations, researchers have only been able to produce this technology in the bone-dry atmosphere of a laboratory setting until now, when it’s been shown that a ‘wrapping’ process can create a new composite material.

The team of chemical engineers and material scientists developed the process to ‘wrap’ or bind the nanocrystals in porous glass, producing a strong, stable material.

As Hou explained, the process is the key to stabilising the elements, “enhancing its efficiency, and inhibiting the toxic lead ions from leaching out from the materials”.

Composite material is the key

To produce the screens, the composite material is fabricated using a liquid-phase compacting of lead halide perovskite (LHP) semiconductors and metal-organic framework glasses.

LHPs show exceptional optoelectronic properties; however, before this research breakthrough the significant range of barriers, such as light and water sensitivity, limited their application as screens in digital devices.

Using this new process, the glass acts as a matrix for the LHPs, effectively stabilising the material elements and imparting bright, narrow-band photoluminescence with a wide gamut for creating white light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

The composite material has a high stability against immersion in water and organic solvents as well as exposure to heat, light, air and ambient humidity.

These properties, together with their self-sequestration capability, can enable breakthrough applications for LHPs.

The technology has also shown to be scalable, opening the door for many applications.

At present, QLED, or quantum dot light-emitting diode, screens are considered the best for image display and performance, according to Hou.

“This research will enable us to improve on this nanocrystal technology by offering stunning picture quality and strength,” he said.

And by harvesting sunlight and converting it into renewable electricity, it could play a vital role in low-cost, high-efficiency new-generation solar cells and many promising applications, like lighting.

“This discovery opens up a new generation of nanocrystal-glass composites for energy conversion and catalysis,” Chen said.