Research based on studies made by Benjamin Franklin almost 300 years ago could pave the way for colour laser printers that are cheaper and up to 70 per cent smaller than current models.
Physicist Lawrence Schein, a former Xerox and IBM researcher, claimed that Franklin's pioneering studies on electrostatics laid the foundations for technology that could be used to improve the performance of photocopiers and laser printers.
Schein was speaking at a session commemorating the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth.
The scientist explained that photocopiers, laser printers and fax machines use electrostatic adhesion to make toner particles stick to surfaces such as paper before they are permanently melted onto the sheet by heat.
However, Schein said that the forces that make the plastic-based toner particles stick to surfaces during the printing process can be "surprisingly strong".
His experimental measurements have shown these forces to be at least 10 times stronger than might normally be expected.
In recent research papers, Schein and Stanley Czarnecki, of Torrey Pines Research, have shown how to explain the much stronger forces that had been measured experimentally.
"The enhanced adhesion is due to the discreteness of the charges, some of which may lie very close to the contact point where the electrostatic forces are strongest," said Schein.
These insights inspired the formation of Aetas Systems, a technology start-up dedicated to developing new colour laser-printing technology.
Current colour laser printers are more expensive and up to three times as large as black and white models.
Working as a consultant for Aetas, Schein realised that reducing the strength of toner adhesion could lead to greatly simplified and cheaper colour laser printers.
Based on Schein's ideas Aetas is developing a new generation of laser printers which the firm claims will have a reduced complexity and weight comparable to existing black and white models.
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