Try bending your iPhone in half. Or roll up your tablet like a scroll. Or wrap a touchscreen TV around a pole. Didn’t work out so well, did it? That’s because the ceramic material used to make many of today’s touchscreens has only two of three needed qualities: it’s conductive, it’s transparent—but it’s not flexible.
“It’s brittle and so if you bend it, it breaks,” says University of Vermont scientist Frederic Sansoz, a professor of mechanical engineering.
But Sansoz and a team of other scientists have made a discovery that may change that. Working with silver at a vanishingly small scale—nanowires just a few hundred atoms thick—they discovered that they could make wires that were both super strong “and stretchy like gum,” he says.