“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em”… (Yep, the folding phone is here.)

It was all over this year’s CES, the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

 Folding in this case, means a folding screen.  We’ve seen folding phones before, of course (but read down for some news about a return of the all-time classic flip phone).

Now we’re talking about a fold-up smartphone.  Like this…

…that’s the FlexPai, from Royole – and that phone, you could order right now (though we’re not saying you should).  From a more familiar name, Samsung has now introduced the Galaxy Fold – which opens from phone (that screen is on the “outside”) to phablet (this screen is on the inside, like opening a book).  Huawei has the Mate X (and like the FlexPai, the big screen is on the “outside”, like the front and back cover of a book).  There’s even talk about a foldable iPhone – one of these days.

And what makes ANYBODY’S folding phone possible?  Some really smart engineers – and some very special polymers called polyimides, produced from petrochemicals.  [Polymers are long strings of molecules and each individual molecular unit in the polymer comes from a reactive molecule called a monomer.]

What makes these special polyimides so strong AND flexible are very complex monomers based on one or more benzene rings [that’s a chemical “ring”, by the way, not a “one ring to rule them all” sort of ring], which makes them perfect for a folding screen (and which also makes them a lot more likely to survive your cool new phone falling out of your pocket onto some strong, inflexible concrete sidewalk).

And those polymers [try saying, “poly (4,4’-oxydiphenylamine pyromellitimide)” three times.  Ok, try saying it just once!] are made from petrochemicals like benzene, toluene and xylene – which in turn are made from petroleum and natural gas.

So what else can you do with those polymers.  Well, the original cool flip phone, Motorola’s Razr…

…is coming back – but this time the “cool”, isn’t a folding phone, it’ll be a folding screen.

But maybe you want to go big.  Not just a phone.  Not even a phablet.  So how about one of the big hits of this year’s CES, literally big – a 65-inch TV that rolls up like a window shade.

(In the front, that’s the TV in its box.  On the left, the partially “unfurled” TV.  And on the right, that’s 65 inches of viewing pleasure.)

So — want to watch the last season of Game of Thrones?  Pull up that big OLED screen (OLED stands for organic light emitting diode, a whole new ball game for advanced TVs).  Need to take a deep breath after the latest adventures of the Mother of Dragons?  Roll it back down and out of the way until next week (in case a big black square isn’t your idea of wall décor).  And don’t worry, you don’t do it by hand, though you can just tell it to roll up (which will make an excellent party trick, once).

[And if you think the polymer for polyamide-based FlexPai is complex, try adding an amide to your imide!  Now you have a polyamide-imide called poly(biphenyl tetracarboxylic acid dianhydride – phenylene diamine).  We won’t even ask you to say that once.  We’ll just say “thank you, chemistry majors” – for having figured it out, and figured out what to do with it.]

LG makes that roll-up TV, and you can watch it roll (though you’ll have to sit through about 40 seconds that might remind of the opening of 2001:  A Space Odyssey.  Be patient though.  It rolls.)

And since the TV screen rolls up (or down) into a box (on the scale of a big soundbar), it could be portable, so you could pick up your TV and move it to whatever room you want to watch in (while you’re saving up to buy one for each room, of course).

What makes all this cool stuff possible?  Those same petrochemicals – benzene, toluene and xylene – that let you stash a phablet in your pocket.  Not bad for a barrel of oil.  And who knows what’s down the road, or on the road?  Fold-up cars, anyone?

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