Researchers are determined to manufacture stretchable biomedical devices that interface directly with organs such as the skin, heart and brain. Electronic devices, however, are usually made from hard materials that are incompatible with soft tissue.
Choon Chiang Foo from the A*STAR Institute of High Performance Computing, Singapore, and researchers at Harvard University, United States, are aiming to solve this dilemma with squishy, see-through gels that can act as integral components of stretchable devices thanks to an innovative ionic conduction mechanism (1).
Foo and co-workers made their discovery while investigating a promising ‘artificial muscle’ technology known as dielectric elastomers. These devices sandwich an insulating rubber polymer between two conductive electrodes, typically made from micro-cracked metals or carbon grease. Applying a voltage to the electrodes builds up pressure which causes the inner polymer to expand. Most electrode materials, however, begin to lose conductivity when subjected to high strains.
The researchers chose to replace the electrodes in dielectric elastomers with soft hydrogels. Hydrogels are transparent and biocompatible materials, typically used in contact lenses, which encapsulate salty ions and water inside a polymeric sheath. Replacing the electrodes requires overcoming two well-known limitations of ionic conductors: their slow speeds relative to electron conductors and a tendency to undergo destructive electrochemical reactions at high voltages.
The team’s setup addresses these problems by placing a thin insulating rubber sheet between two hydrogel layers. Electric signals sent to the hydrogel through tiny electrodes leads to rapid buildup of oppositely charged ions on each side of the rubber sheet causing the sandwiched device to thin and expand over the entire area. Furthermore, the rubber layer has a remarkably low capacitance, which causes a large voltage drop across the rubber and shields the hydrogel from electrochemical reactions, even at kilovolt ranges.
To demonstrate the high-frequency operation of their stretchable ionic material, the researchers produced the world’s first gel-based transparent loudspeaker (see image). This device, which could be placed over a smartphone or flat-screen television screen, resonated thousands of times per second over the entire audible range.
Foo, whose theoretical contributions proved critical to understanding the novel behavior of these stretchy gels, believes this work may lead to a fundamental shift in how engineers conceive electronic devices. “Because existing conductors struggle to meet the demands of stretchable applications, device designers may begin to ask if they can replace electronic conductors with ionic conductors,” he explains.
“The device may lose some performance but may gain other attributes, such as stretchiness, transparency and biocompatibility.”
The A*STAR-affiliated researcher contributing to this research is from the Institute of High Performance Computing
Keplinger, C., Sun, J.-Y., Foo, C. C., Rothemund, P., Whitesides, G. M. & Suo, Z. Stretchable, transparent, ionic conductors. Science 341, 984–987 (2013)
Physics, photosynthesis and solar cells
01.12.2016 | University of California - Riverside
New process produces hydrogen at much lower temperature
01.12.2016 | Waseda University
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.
Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering
02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy