What is Gallium and why is it already all over CES 2013?

CES 2013 doesn’t even officially begin until Tuesday, but there’s already a front runner for hot new product of the show: gallium. What-ium? Gallium.

Also known as metallic element number 32, gallium is a soft, silvery “poor metal,” and we’re going to just go ahead and defer to Wikipedia or your high school chemistry teacher on an explanation for what that is. What matters to you, dear CES-obsessed reader, is that gallium has already figured prominently in several product announcements here in Vegas, and it apparently has near-magic properties that will make all your consumer tech more awesome in the coming year (every CES has one … where you at, magnesium?)

Up until recently, high definition televisions have been outfitted with amorphous silicon transistors to create the vibrant, rich colors on your television screens. The more amorphous silicon transistors you have, the more pixel density you’ll get on your display. However, these transistors contain a physical upper bound before they are no longer transparent behind your TV screen. This is why you generally never see television at higher than 1080p definition – any more transistors in an attempt to boost pixel density will just essentially ruin how the display looks.

New transistors containing gallium will now begin to replace silicon-based editions. Gallium’s semiconductor properties allow electrons to move faster at higher heat capacities and lower power consumption. When combined with other elements, such as Gallium nitride (GaN), Indium gallium arsenide (InGaAs), or Indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO), these chemical compounds can form smaller, thinner transistors that stack up higher than amorphous silicon – resulting in overall improved product specs. Televisions with IGZO transistors offer higher pixel density, light bulbs with GaN last up to years longer than traditional bulbs, and computer microchips with more InGaAs transistors can perform more functions. A better flow of electrons within gallium-based transistor also requires less refresh, enhancing power consumption and reducing interference.

So, take of all that, combine it into an electronic device, and these transistors make products like pixel-dense 4K Ultra-HD televisions from Sharp and LG possible. Additionally, tablets and smartphones will boast more accurate and sensitive touch capabilities, while GaN-based products like sound amplifiers and microwaves are more powerful while reducing in size. These are the properties manufacturers clearly want in gadgets: Thinner body, better screen, lower power consumption, and improved touch accuracy. And we’re willing to bet you want them too. It isn’t particularly cheap to produce – yet – but with greater scale and popularity, it may just spell a new era of displays in gadgets at home, in your palms, in cars or beyond.

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