Scientists have developed shatterproof smartphone screens

Due to the portable nature of smart devices, dropping them is a fairly common occurrence. Various companies have stepped in and tried to make shatterproof screens, the most famous of which being Corning with their Gorilla Glass range; but efforts to develop a product that ends shattering once and for all has been met with difficulty.

That was the case until just a few days ago. In a recently published scientific paper, a team at the University of Akron have found that adding a transparent layer of electrodes onto the surface of a polymer significantly increases surface toughness and the flexibility of the polymer. The team, headed by Yu Zhu, who is assistant professor of polymer science at the university, tell that these findings were established with repeated bending tests and scotch tape peeling tests (the scotch tape peeling test is done to ensure that the coating won't deteriorate or detach from the surface).

"These two pronounced factors drive the need to substitute ITO with a cost-effective and flexible conductive transparent film" - Yu Zhu, UA assistant professor of polymer science

The research team suggests that the findings could replace or improve current screens which have coatings made from brittle indium tin oxide (ITO). These current coatings are more expensive than what Yu Zhu's team have developed, which is also significantly stronger.

The film completely kept its shape and functionality after being bent even 1,000 times. Due to the flexibility, the transparent electrode film could be manufactured in cheap, large-quantity rolls instead of the current more difficult and costly method.

“The annoying problem of cracked smartphone screens may be solved once and for all with this flexible touchscreen." - Yu Zhu, UA assistant professor of polymer science

The full paper is available here.

Source: University of Akron | Image via NewYorkNatives

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The original abstract describes that testing was done by repeated bending and tape adhesion tests. This is a crack resistance test. Shatter point tests are done by repeated dropping from a specified height and angle using an apparatus that allows consistent drops to be made, or by using an impact tester where a specific weight, with a ball on the end, is dropped onto a surface at varying heights to determine at what point it will shatter. Nothing indicated that the actual glass or sapphire will be shatterproof, just that the polymer film tested can be repeatedly bent without cracking.

The University of Akron appears to have exaggerated the results by redefining "shatter-resistant". Bend testing, generally done over a mandrel or other device at a specific speed, is not the same as drop testing, or an impact resistance test.

I'd just like to be able to go anywhere in my state without dropping a call or having so many dead zones no matter what provider you are on vs avoiding dropping the things. There are large area's that need towers but its a ton of Govt land that they won't let them put towers on which is beyond lame.

Can anyone explain why the HELL no one manufactures smartphone screens made of sapphire yet? It's NOT so expensive, even many budget wrist watches have screens made of sapphire (yes, real sapphire crystal). The chances of scratching, cracking or breaking such screens are negligible compared to any ###### such as Corning's "Gorilla Glass". There has never been any material in very wide consumer usage that's as PROVEN as transparent sapphire covers in wrist watches. With the ridiculous amounts of money manufacturers sell their ###### "smartphones" for, no one has yet decided that it would be a good idea to invest in sapphire screens? What's wrong with those people?

As far as I'm aware, Apple is the only one with a manufacturing plant in the US (out in Arizona) looking towards the application use of sapphire in their products.

I know Samsung and another company were interested in it too, but considering they don't have the headstart Apple already does, I'd imagine it'll be some time before they can actually roll it out.

From what I understood, sapphire is much better at scratch resistant but more prone to breaking from falling. But we'll see when the iPhone 6 comes.

Sapphire is far less prone to breaking than glass, especially when it's in the form factor discussed here. I've smashed my wrist many times, sometimes VERY hard, on a hard surface, far harder than you would ever get away with with any smartphone screen (including Corning's BS "Gorilla" variants), and no damage whatsoever.

Your watch does not have a 6"+ screen does it? I asumen your watch has circular and not flat shaped unlike phablets and tablets. We are talking no comparable requirements. sapphire may be more prone to breaking in this conditions, so if this new tech or Gorilla Glass 4 are better and cheaper than sapphire flat 6"+ screens, having invested in it is a silly waste of money, or as many Applet stunts, simple marketing bullshissssss!!!

Sapphire (or more accurately corundum) is less prone to shattering than any glass, period. You have no clue what you're talking about, so just don't. It's used in the best body armors, armored vehicles and bullet-proof window products for a reason. And yes, I've had quite large watches with a rectangular sapphire cover, and that is perfectly comparable. If you think that within the limitations of smartphone screen form factor, with very limited dimensions (especially thickness), anything other than sapphire (except something like diamond which is certainly not feasible) is better, you have no clue. Any lame glass screen, including Corning's joke of a product called "Gorilla" which shatters from very mild impact, is comparable, you have no clue. It's all many times less durable than sapphire.

VHMP01, no one really wants bendable smartphone screens, with terrible transparency and no real durability, it's just a gimmick to get more money from stupid consumers on the cheap, and it's not really useful for anything.

yeah I've never actually dropped a phone on anything hard enough to break it all I can say to those who have ya all must be a bunch of limp wristed wimps or have that much money you just don't give a F**k

I buy my phones partially based on durability. Build quality was the major reason for my choice for a Lumia. It's a phone, like my wallet and keys, it gets tossed around and are items I have for using, not for storing.

Athlonite said,
yeah I've never actually dropped a phone on anything hard enough to break it all I can say to those who have ya all must be a bunch of limp wristed wimps or have that much money you just don't give a F**k

Anyone who's dropped must be limp wristed? My iPhone once fell off my bedside table because I knocked it off fumbling for it to turn the alarm off. Landed dead on the screen and shattered.

Never broken one of mine.. I dont know if this a apple specific but I've seen countless of iPhone and iPad with a screen exploded, both my friend have he's corner Crack, he dropped them once or twice. He's iPad is epic tought I giant spider Web, so much for metal backing feeling more solid while just make them more frail to this because of greater shock

And just like the better battery technology we've been promised, i'm sure it'll be great when it arrives in a decade. :laugh:

The coolest technologies are always perpetually 3-30 years in the future. We've had a dozen 'battery' break-throughs in the last dozen years, but none have apparently made it to consumers even though they've always been expected "within 3 years". And when I was in college 20 years ago, they were saying commercial fusion power was 30 years away.... today? They're saying that commercial fusion power is 30 years away. It'll ALWAYS be 30 years away...

Raa said,
And just like the better battery technology we've been promised, i'm sure it'll be great when it arrives in a decade. :laugh:

To be fair, the iPhone 3G (released 2008) was 12.3mm thick and only had a 1150mAh capacity battery. Now we have phones like the THL 5000 that are 8.9mm thick and have 5000mAh battery capacity.

The biggest issue with slow technology roll-out is because these factories already exist and a lot of money has already been spent on infrastructure. However in this case, it allows new manufacturers to come in and supersede existing ones.

duoi said,

Now we have phones like the THL 5000 that are 8.9mm thick and have 5000mAh battery capacity.

And they still last no longer than they used too...

Raa said,

And they still last no longer than they used too...

No, but they do a lot more.

Edited by rfirth, Jun 7 2014, 8:50am :

rfirth said,

No, but they do a lot more.


TBH, smartphones do (basically) the same tasks they always have.

Sure, they might have bigger screens, faster wifi/mobile speeds, but still - their basic function remains the same.

Aheer.R.S. said,
If they're like the shatterproof rulers I used to have when in high school, I'll call lies :p

Ours were "Shatter-Resistant"

Aheer.R.S. said,
If they're like the shatterproof rulers I used to have when in high school, I'll call lies :p

Did the rulers you used to have in high school have an transparent layer of electrodes added onto the surface. If not, then they are probably not like the rulers that you had in high school. :)

uxo22 said,

Did the rulers you used to have in high school have an transparent layer of electrodes added onto the surface. If not, then they are probably not like the rulers that you had in high school. :)

Joke: noun, said for comic effect, a thing someone says (or in this case, posts) to cause amusement :p

Aheer.R.S. said,
Joke: noun, said for comic effect, a thing someone says (or in this case, posts) to cause amusement :p

My Apologies

Pffft. I don't need that. I've got a Nokia. Scientists need a way to create shatter proof objects, so my Nokia doesn't break them! :D

Amen. When I had an iPhone 4, I was so paranoid that I might drop it and it would shatter.

Then I got a Nokia 920. Now, when I drop it, I'm paranoid that the floor might be damaged. Because nothing touches this phone. It's awesome.

pmbAustin said,
Amen. When I had an iPhone 4, I was so paranoid that I might drop it and it would shatter.

Then I got a Nokia 920. Now, when I drop it, I'm paranoid that the floor might be damaged. Because nothing touches this phone. It's awesome.

My 925 has a cracked screen for a 30cm drop onto a top corner. Tile is fine.

Dot Matrix said,
Pffft. I don't need that. I've got a Nokia. Scientists need a way to create shatter proof objects, so my Nokia doesn't break them! :D

I had that mindset until Thursday night. Now I have a beautifully splintered 920 with damaged speakers. All thanks to me being cocky and a little bit drunk, showing off to my friends how nokias don't break.

Moral of the story: You have a new expensive phone. Don't get cocky by test dropping your new expensive toy. Best case scenario, it lives up to marketing claims.

My 1020 hit brickwork paving from table-height, then slid along the ground on the face of the screen... no damage except a slight dent in the polycarbonate, and a very minor surface-scratch on the screen (can't feel, can't see unless at acute angle).

The Nokia 1020 I currently have was given to me because a friend dropped it and cracked the screen badly. He didn't want to pay to get it fixed so he gave it to me. It cost me 125.00 to get the screen replaced.

But, even Nokia screens will crack if dropped just right.

Dot Matrix said,
Pffft. I don't need that. I've got a Nokia. Scientists need a way to create shatter proof objects, so my Nokia doesn't break them! :D

I agreed with you until my significant other shattered their screen on their 928...

It feel out of his pocket when he was bending over, so it didn't even fall far. Shattering the screen is still possible unfortunately.

I've dropped my 925 a number of times from about half a metre and have yet to see any damage to it. I do try to be careful though lol it's a testament to the build quality!

Dropped my 925 a few times, but only the first fall scratched it, from shirt pocket to tiled floor. Also got a small scratch when it hit a rock while climbing across a waterfall with phone in hand (at Aria Force, Lake District). Sadly the phone got stolen yesterday.

I'm a klutz. I drop my 920 all the time. The corners are looking a bit...floppy, but no damage to the screen or anything else. It's a tough little bastard.