Researchers make new electronics -- with a twist

Nov 19, 2008
An optical image of an electronic device in a complex deformation mode.

They've made electronics that can bend. They've made electronics that can stretch. And now, they've reached the ultimate goal -- electronics that can be subjected to any complex deformation, including twisting.

Yonggang Huang, Joseph Cummings Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at Northwestern University's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and John Rogers, the Flory-Founder Chair Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, have improved their so-called "pop-up" technology to create circuits that can be twisted. Such electronics could be used in places where flat, unbending electronics would fail, like on the human body.

Their research is published online by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Electronic components historically have been flat and unbendable because silicon, the principal component of all electronics, is brittle and inflexible. Any significant bending or stretching renders an electronic device useless.

Huang and Rogers developed a method to fabricate stretchable electronics that increases the stretching range (as much as 140 percent) and allows the user to subject circuits to extreme twisting. This emerging technology promises new flexible sensors, transmitters, new photovoltaic and microfluidic devices, and other applications for medical and athletic use.

The partnership -- where Huang focuses on theory, and Rogers focuses on experiments -- has been fruitful for the past several years. Back in 2005, the pair developed a one-dimensional, stretchable form of single-crystal silicon that could be stretched in one direction without altering its electrical properties; the results were published by the journal Science in 2006. Earlier this year they made stretchable integrated circuits, work also published in Science.

Next, the researchers developed a new kind of technology that allowed circuits to be placed on a curved surface. That technology used an array of circuit elements approximately 100 micrometers square that were connected by metal "pop-up bridges."

The circuit elements were so small that when placed on a curved surface, they didn't bend -- similar to how buildings don't bend on the curved Earth. The system worked because these elements were connected by metal wires that popped up when bent or stretched. The research was the cover article in Nature in early August.

In the research reported in PNAS, Huang and Rogers took their pop-up bridges and made them into an "S" shape, which, in addition to bending and stretching, have enough give that they can be twisted as well.

"For a lot of applications related to the human body -- like placing a sensor on the body -- an electronic device needs not only to bend and stretch but also to twist," said Huang. "So we improved our pop-up technology to accommodate this. Now it can accommodate any deformation."

Huang and Rogers now are focusing their research on another important application of this technology: solar panels. The pair published a cover article in Nature Materials this month describing a new process of creating very thin silicon solar cells that can be combined in flexible and transparent arrays.

Source: Northwestern University

Explore further: Researchers use passive UHF RFID tags to detect how people interact with objects

Related Stories

New material set to change cooling industry

6 hours ago

Refrigeration and air conditioning may become more efficient and environmentally friendly thanks to the patent-pending work of LSU physicists. The team of researchers led by LSU Physics Professor Shane Stadler ...

Hair today, communication trigger tomorrow

6 hours ago

Beauty technology? Don't be concerned if at first you missed the mark. "Beauty technology" does not refer to how ingredients are processed and packaged on shampoo and soap assembly lines. Katia Vega is a ...

Mass beaching fuels 'unscientific' Japan quake fears

7 hours ago

The mass beaching of more than 150 melon-headed whales on Japan's shores has fuelled fears of a repeat of a seemingly unrelated event in the country—the devastating 2011 undersea earthquake that killed ...

Recommended for you

Intellectual property in 3D printing

Apr 16, 2015

The implications of intellectual property in 3D printing have been outlined in two documents created for the UK government by Bournemouth University's Dinusha Mendis and Davide Secchi, and Phil Reeves of Econolyst Ltd.

World-record electric motor for aircraft

Apr 16, 2015

Siemens researchers have developed a new type of electric motor that, with a weight of just 50 kilograms, delivers a continuous output of about 260 kilowatts – five times more than comparable drive systems. ...

Space open for business, says Electron launch system CEO

Apr 15, 2015

Space, like business, is all about time and money, said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab, a US company with a New Zealand subsidiary. The problem, he added, is that, in cost and time, space has remained an incredibly ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.