Metal-polymer hybrid used to create flexible electronics

Article by Amanda Doyle

Tang et al.

A HYBRID conductive material has been developed for flexible electronic circuits by combining elastic polymers and liquid metal.

Developing robust flexible electronics is important for creating biocompatible technology that can be used for devices such as wearable sensors. However, most stretchable conductors currently used in flexible electronics are either toxic, costly, or break easily. Researchers in China have now developed a new conductor which is non-toxic, easily stretchable, and durable.

The hybrid material is called a metal-polymer conductor (MPC). The liquid metals, gallium and indium, allow electricity to flow, and the embedded network of silicon-based polymers makes the material mechanically resilient. The MPCs also have a much lower cost compared to silver-based flexible electronics, and have the potential to be mass-manufactured.

"These are the first flexible electronics that are at once highly conductive and stretchable, fully biocompatible, and able to be fabricated conveniently across size scales with micro-feature precision," said senior author Xingyu Jiang, a professor at the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology in China. "We believe that they will have broad applications for both wearable electronics and implantable devices."

The researchers can create any 2D pattern of MPC on most substrates in high resolution and the MPCs can have different thicknesses and conductivity, which can lead to a wide range of applications. The technology was tested in wearable keyboard gloves and in electrodes for stimulating the passage of DNA through the membranes of live cells.

"The applications of the MPC depend on the polymers," said lead author Lixue Tang, a graduate student in Jiang's research group. "We cast super-elastic polymers to make MPCs for stretchable circuits. We use biocompatible and biodegradable polymers when we want MPCs for implantable devices. In the future, we could even build soft robots by combining electroactive polymers."

"We wanted to develop biocompatible materials that could be used to build wearable or implantable devices for diagnosing and treating disease without compromising quality of life, and we believe that this is a first step toward changing the way that cardiovascular diseases and other afflictions are managed," added Jiang.


Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

Recent Editions

Catch up on the latest news, views and jobs from The Chemical Engineer. Below are the four latest issues. View a wider selection of the archive from within the Magazine section of this site.