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Engineer claims interactive paper breakthrough

Engineers at the University of Cincinnati have brought us one step closer to the world of interactive newspapers and magazines with a technology best described as 'e-paper on paper.'

The new 'electrowetting' technique, developed by Professor Andrew Stecki allows for e-paper electrophoretic displays - such as the popular E-Ink technology that powers most eReaders including Amazon's popular Kindle - to be created using paper as a substrate, rather than the more common glass.

The implications for Professor Stecki's research are astounding: glass is relatively expensive, brittle, and prone to breakage, while paper is cheap, plentiful, and flexible.

An eReader constructed from electrowetted paper would be flexible, impact-resistant, outdoor-readable, but most of all cheap - and it's this particular property that holds the most promise.

By creating an e-paper display using a paper substrate, a cheap, disposable, reprogrammable display can be created - a newspaper or magazine that features animations, video,or text updates itself automatically as new information comes in. At the end of the week, you could just dispose of the paper - which can be recycled - and pick up a new one.

Stecki describes the breakthrough as "pretty exciting," stating: "With the right paper, the right process and the right device fabrication technique, you can get results that are as good as you would get on glass, and our results are good enough for a video-style e-reader."

The technology is the closest we have come thus far to the 'eternitree' printer envisioned by Marvin Minsky and Harry Harrison in the book The Turing Option: a printer which took sheets of a paper-like substance, printed on them, and then allowed the paper to be returned to the printer's intake hopper for wiping and re-printing.

Sadly, it could be a while before we get to use e-paper paper ourselves: Stecki predicts that it could take between three and five years to bring the technology to market - and that hinges on finding a suitable commercial partner for next-stage development.

More details about the technology are available on the University's website.