Flexible screens: Do nanowires poise any dangers?

Although barely developed or available to the public, there is already a first study on the possible dangers of flexible screen technology. According to the research team, the nanowires used could get into cells and cause damage, resembling the risks of asbestos fibers.

Cell damage and negative long-term effects are considered

Although barely developed or available to the public, there is already a first study on the possible dangers of flexible screen technology. According to the research team, the nanowires used could get into cells and cause damage, resembling the risks of asbestos fibers.

Flexible screens, foldable phones: Such a possibility is ceasing to be a dream of the future. This is made possible by thin gold and silver wires, which on the one hand guarantee the electrical conductivity of the material, while also enabling the folding capability and flexibility of screens.

However, past experience has shown that other fiber structures, such as asbestos or nanotubes, can damage cells and thus may have health side effects. It is already known from experiments that nanowires can penetrate through the skin into epidermal cells. The researchers suspect that it is very likely that the cells confuse the fine particles and incorrectly absorb them. The study suggests that the wire particles from flexible displays are much too long, remain in the cell and damage it. Similar to lances, the nanowires can break through the cell membranes and even destroy the cells.

In their study, the scientists found out from cell cultures that almost 100% of the silver wires, as they also occur in foldable displays, were absorbed by the cells. In addition, this showed a dose-dependent effect on cell survival, i.e. the more nanowires were present, the more cells died.

To reduce the toxicity of the nanowires in the experiment, it was sufficient to reduce the diameter of the nanowires to < 30 µm and the length to 10 µm. In this strength, the wire particles were thin enough to be simply "crumpled up" in the cells and thus rendered harmless. The following question to tackle is whether it will suffice to design nanowires that are only thin enough to be “managed” by our cells.

Original publication: 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2019; doi: 10.1073/pnas.1820041116

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