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Last updated on April 21, 2014 at 1:20 EDT

Quantum Tunneling Leads To New Touch-Screen Technology

February 9, 2010

New material from a UK company that exploits a quantum physics trick could soon lead to pressure-sensitive touch-screens and keys on many hand-held devices, BBC News reported.

The technology allows scrolling down a long list or webpage faster as more pressure is applied.

The “Quantum Tunneling Composite” has now been licensed to a division of Samsung that distributes mobile phone components to several handset manufacturers.

The technology could be used in devices from phones to games to GPS handsets.

Nissha, a Japanese touch-screen maker, also licensed the approach from Yorkshire-based Peratech, who make the composite material QTC.

But Peratech is not yet allowed to reveal the phone, gaming, and device makers that could soon be using the technology to bring pressure sensitivity to a raft of new devices.

Experts say the pressure-sensitivity could lead to a “third dimension” in touchscreens. Meaning that instead of many “2-D” pages of applications, they could be grouped by type on a single page – using the press of a finger to dive into each type and select the desired app.

The technology uses spiky conducting nanoparticles, similar to tiny medieval maces, dispersed evenly in a polymer. However, 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 tunneling.

Tunneling is one of several effects in quantum mechanics that defies explanation in terms of the “classical” physics that preceded it. 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 tunneling.

In QTC, the material that surrounds the spiky balls acts like a wall to electric current and as the balls draw closer together the probability of a charge tunneling through increases when squashed or deformed by a finger’s pressure.

Therefore, pressing harder on the material leads to a smooth increase in the current through it.

The QTC approach is particularly suited to making thin devices. Pressure-sensitive QTC switches can be made as small as the thickness of a human hair.

Samsung Electro-mechanics has now incorporated the QTC into the navigation switch familiar on smartphones””which is useful for scrolling more or less quickly through, for example, a long list of emails.

Peratech’s chief executive Philip Taysom said that same model can be used in many other ways, like in games: to control how hard I want to jump or run for example.

“Electronics are being given the ability to sense something that we take for granted, which is how much we’re touching and applying force,” he added.

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