updated 3/24/2006 7:59:23 PM ET 2006-03-25T00:59:23

Researchers have developed an ultra-thin plastic that allows an electrical charge to pass through it at speeds never before seen, a discovery that could dramatically drive down the cost of flat-panel monitors and other devices.

The plastic, which resembles cellophane when applied to electronic components, could one day replace the chemicals used to manufacture monitors and so-called radio frequency identification chips, which are used to keep track of store inventories, fleets of trucks and herds of cattle.

Researchers have long searched for alternatives to the silicon-based material used in today's devices. The plastic material, known as liquid-crystalline polymers, have been viewed as a key contender, but until now electrical charges haven't been able to travel through it at speeds required by electronic devices.

But a team of scientists led by Ian McCulloch of Merck Chemicals in the United Kingdom, has found a way to boost electrical performance in polymers six-fold, putting the substance on par with so-called amorphous silicon.

The discovery, published online this week by the journal Nature Materials, could lead to new methods for making monitors and other types of electronic devices.

Instead of using a costly vacuum process to coat silicon on large panes of glass, manufacturers could spray a liquid polymer on tiny plastic parts, in much the way the nozzle of an inkjet printer sprays ink on paper.

"It's a radically different manufacturing process," said Michael McGehee, one of the study's authors and a professor in Stanford University's Materials Science and Engineering Department.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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