Jerusalem Company Makes Electronic Ink' Breakthrough

In recent years, hi-tech companies have competed to manufacture electronically colored ink. After giants such as Xerox and Sharp invested billions of dollars in research and development, it appears a small Jerusalem-based company called magink has beaten them to it.

The company has succeeded in creating a "chemical soup" that can by electronically manipulated to produce any color.

If magink can implement its discovery in commercial products, it could herald a real revolution: screens could be made just a few millimeters thick; huge areas could be converted into giant video screens; and it could aid the development of the electronic newspaper, in which the type is changed by remote broadcast.

The material developed by magink is made up of more than 400 components - including cholesterol - which, when mixed, produce spring-like molecules. The company has found a way of controlling these springs by activating them with electric currents lasting milliseconds.

The currents create one of four reactions in the spring: to "stand up," "lie down" expand or contract. When the molecular spring lies down, it becomes transparent; when it lies down, it reflects light. The length of the wave of returned light, which determines the color of the light, is determined by the extent to which the spring contracts or expands.

"What this means," says Ran Poliakine, magink's CEO and one of the founders, "is that in one compound we have all the components needed to create all the colors visible to the human eye."

The material is trapped between two very thin sheets of plastic or glass, and is divided into small squares, known as pixels. Each pixel is connected to an electronic conductor, and a computer program sends out currents of varying strength and length. The rhythm of the current determines the color of the molecular spring. By making some of the springs shrink and display the color red, and others expand, producing white, the program can create the color pink.

Magink currently has a joint venture with Mitsubishi, which operates electronic billboards deployed across Japan that use the compound. Since magink's compound is reflective, the clarity of the picture is especially good during daylight hours. At night, the material must be illuminated for it to reflect any light. According to Poliakine, experiments carried out by the company find that the molecular springs will not show any signs of fatigue for at least the first 12 years of use.

Magink is already looking to the future. "The `Holy Grail' of this technology is updating the picture," says Poliakine. "The moment we know how to change the status of the springs at a rate of over 20 times per second, we will have invented a replacement for television screens."

The development of the company's product began in 1998, and in May 2000 magink was formed. It raised around $10.5 million in investments, and now employs some 30 people.