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Sunscreen lotion ingredient may aid computer imaging

PORTLAND, Ore. — An ingredient in sunburn lotion may help improve computer displays and bring about some futuristic devices sooner than expected.

Zinc oxide, often used as a heavy sunscreen, also can be used to create transparent transistors, according to researchers at Oregon State University.

The nearly microscopic transistors that control the image in current liquid crystal displays — the kind common in laptop computers and now TVs and desktop monitors — require material that blocks light.

Finding a transparent material that can act as a transistor — a basic electronic circuit — opens up an entire new range of applications in electronics, said John Wager, an OSU electrical engineer who led the research.

Eliminating the need for the light-blocking material could permit easier manufacturing, brighter images and much better detail. Ultimately, that could mean invisible electronic systems so far depicted only in science fiction movies by Hollywood special effects wizards.

Wager said the transparent transistors also could save space on microprocessors, the brains of a computer.

The research is reported this week in the journal Applied Physics Letters.