What’s inside your media player?

Millions of portable media players have been sold over the last few years. Young people are especially crazy about this hi-tech gadget. But have you ever thought what’s inside this digital device and what makes it so handy?

Each new generation of media players offers more features and improvements both in terms of software and design, as new models get smaller and lighter. Believe it or not, chemistry plays an essential role in this process!

New materials emerging from the chemical industry enable designers and manufacturers to improve the capacity, appearance and portability of digital media players. Whether it is in the silicon chips, the cover, in the display or in the battery, chemicals are essential for the media player to fulfil its job and combine a myriad of features.

The ingredients of a media player

Media players are made of polycarbonate, which is lightweight, but strong enough to serve as bulletproof glass. The combination of these two properties makes it the ideal material for media players, which need to resist shocks, moisture, cold and ultraviolet light.

However, impact-resistance does not mean scratch-resistance. Therefore a protective layer of resin is laid on top. One benefit of these materials is that they lend themselves to a variety of colors – essential when it comes to style and design!

The liquid crystal display is another important part of the media player. Liquid crystal displays (LCDs) have revolutionised visual communication, particularly in terms of portability. Notebook computers, mobile phone screens, digital watches, and automobile navigation systems would not be possible without LCD technology.

However, it took a long time to move from the discovery of liquid crystals to the multitude of LCD applications we enjoy today. Liquid crystals were discovered by Austrian botanist Friedrich Reinitzer in 1888. When melting cholesterol benzoate, he discovered that it first became cloudy liquid, and then cleared as its temperature rose. During the cooling process, the liquid first turned blue, and then crystallized.

Surprisingly, no one found any technical usage for liquid crystals until 1968, when the first experimental LCD was made. Since then, the technology has significantly improved, and it will continue to do so.

Chemistry enables new technological solutions

Batteries are essential power for portable media players. Several types of batteries, all using chemicals, exist but the lithium-ion battery is the most popular for digital players. Designers can mould the battery like modelling clay, which is a particular advantage for a pocket-sized product. What’s more, it is rechargeable.

Memory is a key element for handheld media players to store hundreds of music and video files. Instead of a hard drive, digital music players use solid-state flash memory. Enabled by chemistry, a flash memory chip can hold a huge amount of information while being extremely small – actually smaller than a drawing pin! It also protects the information better: unlike a hard drive, it has no moving parts inside, which makes it more resistant to damage.

Today’s information and entertainment technologies simply would not be possible without chemistry. Do you want your next portable device to be even smaller, lighter, more powerful and reliable? Scientists and designers will continue working hand in hand to provide us new solutions in the future!