The metal coating that makes iPhones touch sensitive is running out


No, iPhone screens are not magic. They are coated in a transparent material called indium tin oxide that senses when a finger makes contact.

ITO comes from the metal indium, which must be mined. Prices are rising as it becomes more scarce; the U.S. government estimates that from 2010 to 2011, the cost for indium rose by 25 percent. The world could run out altogether in the next decade.

To keep costs down, electronics manufacturers will need to look to alternative materials. At the Semicon West conference Wednesday in San Francisco, industry experts reported on potential alternatives such as carbon nanotubes and silver nanowires that could someday become the dominant touchscreen coating.

During his presentation, Nanotech Biomachines CEO and CTO Will Martinez presented the audience with a transparent sheet covered in graphene — an emerging material made of a one-atom-thick layer of carbon atoms. He bent it back and forth to…

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