Rick McCullough is all about discovery. When he’s not busy serving as Carnegie Mellon’s Vice President of Research, he’s leading his own research team — or building his spin-off company, Plextronics.
“I’m very interested in bringing researchers together across the university to help build new interdisciplinary initiatives, or together with foundations, donors and research agencies,” he said, commenting on his role as vice president of research. “I’m also trying to build spin-offs and technology transfer here in a stronger way, in what I call the ‘innovation ecosystem.’”
McCullough co-founded Plextronics in 2002, using his own ground-breaking research. He had successfully configured a polymer that is stable, soluble and — most amazing — electrically conductive. He had also designed a method to manufacture it inexpensively.
Now with 70 employees, Plextronics has three product lines — light, power, and circuitry — that produce inks essentially containing these dissolved conductive plastics.
The company’s Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology enables the manufacture of completely printable, plastic displays for television, mobile devices and lighting applications.
“This technology is thinner, cheaper, faster, better and more energy-efficient,” McCullough noted.
Manufacturers are already in the process of ramping up production abilities. Sony used the technology last year for a television with a half-centimeter thick display and colors more vibrant than plasma. McCullough hopes to see widespread usage within two years.
The solar product is even more remarkable. The inks enable inexpensive printing of plastic solar cells, unlike the current silicon-based cells, and work in very low light conditions. Potential uses range from cell phones bounded with solar cells that never need to be charged, to an on-grid energy source. Plextronics is currently working to optimize efficiency and lifetime.
“There’s a lot of interest and a lot of companies are gearing up. They see this as the near-term future,” McCullough explained. “It’s very exciting.”
“As a scientist, it would be great to do something that changes the world,” he added. He’s changing the region, too – having helped create 70 local jobs focused on developing the revolutionary technology. “If we’re able to make ubiquitous solar, then we could completely change the way people get energy. It’s renewable, it’s green, it’s cheap. That would be the ultimate goal of all-time.”
McCullough is equally enthusiastic to be at Carnegie Mellon.
“Carnegie Mellon’s awesome,” he said. “It’s just a great environment. Everybody is really smart, always striving to be the best, seeking to improve.”
He added, “We do everything we can to bring people together so that they can be interdisciplinary, entrepreneurial, and good people, all at the same time. We’re not bound by tradition. We’re always thinking out of the box, what’s the next best thing. It’s very unique.”