Elastic electronic devices

Liquid metal opens a new avenue for elastic electronic devices

The 3D printed liquid metal makes the stretchy braces a little closer. The elastic electronic devices they could start to appear in the near future, after researchers have created liquid metal structures on a 3D printer.

A team from North Carolina State University has used an alloy of two metals - gallium and indium, which are liquid - at room temperature, but form a "skin" when exposed to air. Once printed, the resulting shapes can be stretched without warping. The technology could be used in microcircuits and electronic devices. The technique is detailed in the journal Advanced Materials.

"Metal forms a very thin layer of oxide and because of that, it can be molded into interesting shapes that would not be possible with normal liquids, such as water," noted lead author Michael Dickey, who explained that the printer uses a syringe. to stack some drops on top of another. The droplets retained their shape without merging into a single, larger droplet, allowing the scientists to then shape the metal.

"It's an additive manufacturing technique, so you basically print the material directly in 3D space," said Dr. Dickey. "The resulting structures are soft and, if they are embedded, for example, in rubber, deformable and elastic structures can be created."

Device manufacturers could potentially use the technique to fabricate the connections between electronic components so that they would not break if the device was pulled or bent. Flexible electronic devices are starting to emerge, and companies like Samsung, LG and Nokia are experimenting with curved screens for phones and televisions.

However, this technology was not extensible, something that could be achieved with the use of liquid metals, said Dr. Jason Heikenfeld, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of Cincinnati, who was not involved in the research.

Heikenfeld added that recent research has also solved another important issue with liquid metal use: toxicity. Unlike mercury, the gallium-indium alloy is safe, he said.


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