I remember sometime in the early 1980s John Bothwell, then Bishop of Niagara, writing an article in the – by today’s measure – much thicker Niagara Anglican denouncing the frivolity of fibre optic research, since its only application appeared to be in decorative lamps. Bothwell was, of course, almost as ignorant of technology as he was of theology, so he was quite shocked when someone pointed out that fibre optics made his phone work.
The clergy – bishops in particular – seem to be natural Luddites and so, had Bothwell heard of quantum physics, he would have had no use for it either. Today his phone probably has chips in it, so now quantum mechanics is making his phone work; and will soon make it work better:
Handheld devices could soon have pressure-sensitive touch-screens and keys, thanks to a UK firm’s material that exploits a quantum physics trick.
The technology allows, for example, scrolling down a long list or webpage faster as more pressure is applied.
A division of Samsung that distributes mobile phone components to several handset manufacturers has now licensed the “Quantum Tunnelling Composite”.
The approach could find use in devices from phones to games to GPS handsets.
In January, Japanese touch-screen maker Nissha also licensed the approach from Yorkshire-based Peratech, who make the composite material QTC.
However, as part of the licensing agreements, Peratech could not reveal the phone, gaming, and device makers that could soon be using the technology to bring pressure sensitivity to a raft of new devices.
The composite works by using spiky conducting nanoparticles, similar to tiny medieval maces, dispersed evenly in a polymer.
None of these spiky balls actually touch, but the closer they get to each other, the more likely they are to undergo a quantum physics phenomenon known as tunnelling.
Tunnelling is one of several effects in quantum mechanics that defies explanation in terms of the “classical” physics that preceded it.
Simply put, quantum mechanics says that there is a tiny probability that a particle shot at a wall will pass through it in an effect known as tunnelling.
Similarly, the material that surrounds the spiky balls acts like a wall to electric current. But as the balls draw closer together, when squashed or deformed by a finger’s pressure, the probability of a charge tunnelling through increases.
The net result is that pressing harder on the material leads to a smooth increase in the current through it.