The Nanoscale Future of Pixels

A video from Cambridge University's Under the Microscope series reveals the next generation of liquid crystal display technology. 

Cambridge University's Under the Microscope series shares amazing microscopic footage from the university's labs with the public via YouTube. In this video, Dr. Tim Wilkinson of the Centre of Molecular Materials for Photonics and Electronics discusses his work developing better liquid crystal displays with nanotechnology.

On the YouTube page, he writes:

Liquid crystal displays are now a commonplace technology from mobile phone displays to wide screen televisions. They are, however, still limited by the shape, size and speed of their pixels when they are used to display video images. This video shows microscope sequences of a new nanotechnology based liquid crystal pixel structure that will allow much higher resolution displays and even true 3D holographic displays to be fabricated in the future."

The videos are all in real time. The scale varies from video to video, but the little dots which form a grid in most of them are all 10 μm apart (10th of diameter of a hair).

What do today's pixels look like under a microscope? Lukas Mathis, a Swiss software engineer, decided to find out when he received his iPad 3 a few days ago. "Like any self-respecting UI designer, I have a microscope sitting on my desk," he quips on his blog, so he photographed a whole host of gadgets. The blog Extreme Tech rounded up some of his images, which, they say, are about 80x magnification. The red, green, and blue elements are subpixels, and each grouping of three is a pixel:  

But visible pixels are on their way out -- if Apple's Retina Displays have their way. Last month, Philip Bump waxed poetic about the demise of visible pixels in "The Last Days of the Pixel (Ones You Can See, Anyway):"

Pixels are an anachronism, the clumsy brush strokes of the digital world. There are no technological reason we should see them, only economic ones. Within a few years, pixels will be relegated to the world of retro chic. It's simply a matter of cost, of our ability to manufacture high resolution, flexible, sturdy displays cheaply.

For more videos from Cambridge University, visit the YouTube channel

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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