News of Mercurians and Their Projects

TV History Lecture Series

Mercurians in the Princeton area may be interested in a lecture series being held at the Sarnoff Corporation, where fellow Mercurian Alex Magoun is Director of the Sarnoff Library. The series began last November with two presentations on the invention of electronic color television at RCA Laboratories. The lectures are free and open to the public.

The following is a synopsis of the August 8 lecture given by Dr. Hiro Kawamoto and based on his article, “The History of Liquid-Crystal Displays,” published in the April 2002 Proceedings of the IEEE.

“From Princeton to Japan to the World: The Development of Thin, Flat Liquid-Crystal Displays For TVs and Computers”

Shortly after RCA researchers in Princeton invented electronic color television in 1950, RCA chief executive David Sarnoff asked them to put television on a wall. In 1962, Dr. Richard Williams, a physical chemist at the Sarnoff Research Center, discovered the Williams Domain in liquid crys-tals, which he realized made the material suitable for flat-panel displays. Two years later, Dr. George Heilmeier invented an LCD using the dynamic-scattering mode. He believed that a wall-sized, flat-panel, color TV was just around the corner. By 1970, RCA staff had conceived such techniques as the Twisted-Nematic (TN) mode, Thin-Film-Transistor (TFT) arrays, and choles-teric doping, which are the basis of the current liquid crystal industry. RCA, however, decided not to pursue the commercialization of LCDs. Project researchers left the labs and founded LCD companies such as Optel and Microma.

During the 1970s, researchers at Hoffmann-La Roche, DRA, and Brown Boveri in Europe gained insight into the physics of liquid crystal behavior. Chemical companies, such as Hoechst, BDH, and Merck, devel-oped new materials for LCD applications. In Japan, Sharp and Seiko supported LCD technology by designing and supplying small displays for niche market prod-ucts, such as wristwatches and calculators.

Finally, in 1988, researchers at Sharp developed a 14-inch full-color, full-motion, liquid-crystal dis-play. Sharp’s accomplishment led IBM, Toshiba, and NEC to join the LCD industry. David Sarnoff's dream of a wall-hanging TV finally had become a reality. LCDs now could serve the computer and television markets. Today, calculators, watches, cameras, laptops, PDAs, airplane seat displays, computer monitors, and high-definition televisions use LCD. LCD sales surpassed those of cathode-ray tube (CRT) displays in 2000, and may exceed the $50 billion mark by 2005.