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This article is from the In-Depth Report Future of Manufacturing
60-Second Tech

Plastic Electronics Cease Stretching Credulity

An experimental electronic plastic's liquid-metal interior keeps electrical connections intact even after the plastic stretches to more than four times normal size. Larry Greenemeier reports

In electronics there's an understanding that silicon and other elements are responsible for bringing our gadgets to life while plastic serves as the supporting structure. But what if that plastic could be both the brains and the brawn? Better yet, what if plastic was pliable enough to form all sorts of wearable electronics and even implantable medical devices?

In fact, electronics made from conductive plastic have been in the works for at least a decade. One of the difficulties has been overcoming a loss of conductivity when plastic electronics are stretched too far.

A team of researchers from the U.S., South Korea and China say they have found a way to keep an electrical connection even after stretching their specially made plastic more than four times its normal size. The key—make a highly porous polymer, and then fill those pores with liquid metal. [Junyong Park et al., "Three-dimensional nanonetworks for giant stretchability in dielectrics and conductors"]

Imagine these "3-D stretchable conductors" being used to make artificial eyes that restore vision or synthetic skin that monitors blood glucose levels. A bit out-there, I know, but science has a knack for catching up with science fiction.

—Larry Greenemeier

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

[Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]

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