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Houska Prize for research project

The research project “Unbreakable Flexible Electronics” was recently awarded the prestigious Houska Prize by the B&C Private Foundation. The research findings are highly relevant for the future production of microelectronic devices.
Houska Prize 2020
At the award ceremony in Vienna v.l.: Dr. Mariella Schurz (B&C), Priv.-Doz. Dr. Megan Cordill (ESI), Univ.-Prof. Dr. Christian Mitterer (Montanuni), Dr. Erich Hampel (B&C). (© B&C/Alexandra Thompson)

Starting with initial trials ten years ago, the field of flexible electronics has now become the subject of successful research on an international scale: Flexible electronic devices, such as foldable phones and displays. But the technology is still not reliable enough. In particular, the combination of metallic conductor tracks, which are formed from thin layers, and polymer substrates is a focus of current research.

The multidisciplinary team under Dr. Megan Cordill, Vice Director of the Erich-Schmid-Institut of Materials Science (ESI) in Leoben, has investigated the electromechanical behavior of metal-polymer systems used in flexible electronics. The interface between the conductor tracks of thin metallic layers and the polymer films, which are necessary to allow flexibility, is particularly critical.

Using high-resolution electron microscopic and spectroscopic methods, the research team led by Cordill and Professor Christian Mitterer, Professor of Functional Materials and Materials Systems at the Montanuniversität Leoben, has succeeded in measuring the adhesive strength of the materials in order to allow their structure and chemical composition to be adjusted accordingly. This provided the basis necessary to create tailored transitions from the polymer to the layers of metallic conductor tracks.

The research project was a collaboration between the Erich-Schmid-Institut of Materials Science (ESI) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW) and the Department of Materials Science at the University of Leoben and the company Plansee. Plansee developed and produced the materials required to make the sample layers - alloys of molybdenum that were optimized in respect of their flexibility. Numerous tests were carried out at Plansee’s PVD application center to select the appropriate materials. As a result of the collaboration, it was possible to identify promising new materials for conductor tracks for flexible displays.

The project received funding for three years from the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) band is now runner-up in the “University research” category of the Houska Prize. The Houska Prize is Austria’s biggest award for applied research. It is awarded annually by the B&C Private Foundation. In 2020, the winning projects in the categories “University Research” and “Research & Development in SMEs” were selected from a total of 60 submissions by a panel of top experts in a two-stage process.

Take a look at this video for more information on the “Unbreakable Flexible Electronics” project: