Supporting Students and Building Better Backlights

by Stephen Atwood

It's April, and within the next month classes at many colleges and universities will be over for the summer. Graduates will be looking for their first real industry jobs and undergrads will be seeking internships and summer work opportunities. Of those in the science and engineering fields, far too few will find places to work within the display industry. The reason is not because of slow growth, but rather because many display-industry companies do not make the effort to target their employee development strategies to students and recent grads. That's a missed opportunity because I have hired quite a few students in my career and many of them have become highly valued members of the industry.

Unfortunately, too few universities today offer specialized display-technology programs, so most new graduates either learn about display technology during internships or they must overcome a steep learning curve at their first new position before they can make meaningful contributions. I've often found it challenging to find qualified seasoned product engineers who have more than a passing knowledge of the fundamentals of LCDs, backlights, optics, and display electronics. In contrast, there is practically no mainstream high-tech product you can design today that does not require a display. In many cases, the display itself is a critical part of the product's differentiating identity, so those companies that can hire and train engineers with good display knowledge will find a competitive advantage in the marketplace. This is why most companies focus on hiring experienced candidates with many years of previous industry experience. By doing this, they get the benefit of the years of training and teaching that other businesses have already invested in that candidate. It's a good strategy, but obviously it has a limited reach. In fact, if we as industry leaders do not hire and teach new grads then eventually, surely within our career lifetimes, we will all run out of qualified candidates to hire.

So, consider the alternative: Student internships combined with mentoring programs can provide countless benefits for both the student and the supporting company. Students can learn the essential technical skills unique to each technology area from the original inventors and innovators. Companies can plant the seeds for their next generation of knowledge workers from the onset by instilling the right culture and values as well as the core technical disciplines required. I do not know what the statistics show, but I would be willing to bet that students who participate in successful internships are highly motivated to choose careers after graduation within the same industry and at the same companies that supported them as undergrads. That's loyalty, experience, like-minded culture, and high motivation, all instilled in a candidate who will be ready to make a difference in your company from the first day.

Not only does this partnership work both ways, but it also sends a valuable message to universities that display technology skills are a highly valued part of the science and technology curriculum. Universities care greatly about the marketability of their graduates and most will recognize the opportunities being offered and how they signal a need for more display-technology curriculum.

Beyond all this, giving back to the next generation through mentoring, teaching, and financial support is just the right thing to do. Many of my colleagues within our Society know this and live it by example every day. In fact, as you can read further in our feature article unveiling the SID 2012 Honors & Awards recipients, all of this year's major winners have a distinguished record of giving back to students and colleagues through the years. Among them is Larry Tannas, Slottow-Owaki Prize winner, who has taught for over 30 years at UCLA and even endowed a chair of Display Systems Engineering within the engineering department. Similarly, Dr. Jun Souk, winner of the Karl Ferdinand Braun Prize, is now a professor at Hanyang University after a distinguished career at Samsung. We should all follow their leads and help build the next generation of technology leaders from the students of today.

Another tangible way the Society helps in this cause is through local SID chapters that sponsor student chapters on university campuses and include those students in their regular meetings and conference events. Students who are studying display technology are strongly encouraged to publish their work in the SID Journal and to present at the annual Symposium in conjunction with Display Week. SID even provides travel assistance to students whose papers are accepted for publication and presentation. SID also recognizes each year the best student paper submitted to the SID Journal, and this year the winner is "Limonene as a chiral dopant for liquid crystals: Characterization and potential applications" by Rafael S. Zola, Young-Cheol Yang, and Deng-Ke Yang of Kent State University. You can read about their work and the significant findings presented in the paper in this issue under the SID News heading.

We have a packed issue this month, as we simultaneously celebrate our SID 2012 Honors and Awards recipients, preview the upcoming 2012 Symposium, and tackle the latest innovations in backlighting technology. Of course, the Honors and Awards are the most fun, recognizing the many accomplishments of those who have invested so much of their careers to furthering the field of displays. While the honors are being bestowed on them, the real honor is to those of us who have the privilege of working with them, learning from them, and using their innovations to build better products and enrich people's lives. When you read the biographies and citations thoughtfully compiled by our own Jenny Donelan, I'm sure you will come away with something from their lives and work you can relate to. Take the time to reach out to them and say "Congratulations and Thank You" for everything they have achieved.

Our backlighting coverage was compiled this month by our Guest Editor Adi Abileah and starts out with a retrospective of how LED technology has changed so many things about the business and technology of LCDs. Authors Jimmy Kim and Paul Semenza from DisplaySearch take us through the recent history of LED backlight innovations and focus on how they have affected the supply chain, business model, and other aspects of the business of LCDs.

If you need any proof that there is still lots of room for innovation in the design of optical light guides, look no further than our Frontline Technology contribution from K. Käläntär from Global Optical Solutions, who describes his development of a monolithic light-guide panel that provides addressable segments of light that can be used for local dimming of an LCD panel. Not only can this light guide be produced at lower cost than conventional local-dimming light guides, but the light-extraction efficiency has been improved by 1.5–2.0 times that of a conventional BLU. Incidentally, while Adi was working on recruiting the articles for this issue of ID, he was also being selected as the winner of the Otto Schade Prize for all his years of work enhancing the performance of displays, including lots of backlight innovation. We offer him our congratulations and thanks.

Another company that has been innovating in the backlight arena is Global Lighting Technologies. Author Brett Shriver from GLT has contributed a survey of the various advances, titled "Light Guides Evolve from Display Backlighting to General Illumination." I found it intriguing to look at all the ways the basic light-extraction optics can be modified, adapted, and repurposed to suit the many and varied applications described in this article.

We also continue this month with part two of our three-part series on the Leahy–Smith America Invents Act (AIA) Patent Reform Legislation, written by attorney Clark A. Jablon. In this installment, Jablon looks at the new examination provisions, fees, fee structures, and review processes, and offers some very valuable insights into how you can get the most for your money using the new patent process.

Of course, on top of all this we're busy getting ready for Display Week this year in Boston, my home city. Based on the preview we've assembled thus far, it looks like another "can't miss" year for the show and I hope all of you are planning on coming. Trying to summarize the highlights of the upcoming SID Symposium in a few short pages is a daunting task – every topic and every paper is important in its own right, having been selected from a pool of more than twice as many submitted in the past year. When I look at the range and depth of topics, I'm always amazed that there are so many diverse aspects to display technology and that each of them is so potentially rich with new ideas and innovations.

This year is probably the most exciting I have seen in the last few years, with a full array of papers on multiple aspects of 3-D, flexible displays, green technologies, solid-state lighting, and touch. Oxide TFTs were used in many new processes this year, as you will hear in the manufacturing technology sessions, and even projection technology is exciting again with new innovations in pico-projectors being discussed. After reading Jenny's overview with descriptions from all the sub-committee chairs, I'm sure you will also agree it's going to be a banner year for the Symposium. And so, our April issue is complete and we look forward to May/June when we'll be unveiling the Display Industry Awards and so much more. I hope you are all planning on coming to Boston and I look forward to seeing you here. Travel safe. •