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The Stuff of Smartphones

  • By Susan K. Lewis
  • Posted 01.06.11
  • NOVA

Androids, Blackberries, iPhones, and other mobile devices are a testament to revolutionary advances in materials science and engineering. These souped-up cell phones are undoubtedly smaller and smarter than the clunky rotary phones of 40 or 50 years ago. But what sort of toll are they taking on the environment? Explore an anatomy of a smartphone, revealing the key technologies and materials that enable it, and get a glimpse of where these materials come from as well as where they might end up when the device is discarded.

Launch Interactive

See the materials and technologies that go into a smartphone as well as their environmental impact.

Credits

Producer:
Susan K. Lewis
Designer:
Tyler Howe
Developer:
Dan Hart
Special thanks to Amy Moll and Kevin Jones for providing editorial review.

Images

(intro screen phone)
© zentilia/iStockphoto
(plastic casing)
© snake3d/iStockphoto
(Gorilla® Glass)
Courtesy Corning Inc.
(LCD screen)
© Don Bayley/iStockphoto
(LED lights)
©Pawel Gaul/iStockphoto
(printed circuit board)
© Joris van den Heuvel/iStockphoto
(battery)
© luxxtek/iStockphoto
(antenna signal)
© WGBH Educational Foundation
(camera)
© Marek Mnich/iStockphoto
(microphone)
© wsfurl/iStockphoto
(discarded phones)
© chuyu/iStockphoto

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  • Materials That Changed History

    From ceramics to steel, paper to plastics, certain basic substances have long propped up civilization.

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