1972 may be remembered for many things – the infamous Watergate scandal that brought down a US president, a 47-day miners’ strike that would ultimately do the same for a UK government, Lou Reed taking a walk on the wild side, and the emergence of Clint Eastwood in the iconic role of Dirty Harry all stick in the mind – but should also be celebrated as the year that saw the birth of the commercial LCD display.
Not that liquid crystals themselves were a new phenomena – in fact, the technology can trace its roots (appropriately) back to 1888 when Friedrich Reinitzer discovered the liquid crystalline nature of cholesterol extracted from carrots.
However, it wasn’t until 1936 that the first practical application of the technology – the liquid crystal light valve - was patented by Marconi, and it was another 26 years before Richard Williams of RCA identified the electro-optic characteristics that would pave the way for use in displays.
A key player in the development of LCDs was James Fergason (pictured here), who is widely credited as the LCD’s inventor. In 1969, while at the Liquid Crystal Institute at Kent State University he made his seminal discovery of a low-power, field-operated LC display, known as the twisted nematic cell, a technology he patented in 1971. Shortly afterwards, in 1972, the first active matrix LCD panel was produced in the USA by Westinghouse, whose research laboratories Fergason had worked at in the sixties.
LCDs have moved on significantly since those early days and it is now impossible to imagine a world without them. There is a plethora of LCD technologies, formats and options to choose from and LCDs have been a key enabling technology for the user experience in everything from mobile communications to televisions and computing to gaming. Not to mention an ever-growing number of non-consumer designs in areas such as industrial control, test and measurement equipment and medical devices.