Arguably one of the main drawbacks for many wearables on the market today is their battery life. However, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may have stumbled upon a solution to this pesky problem. The team devised an inexpensive approach to manufacture high-speed, flexible silicon transistors that could become the main power source for the next generation of wearables and drastically improve upon the current battery life of wearables available today.
Utilizing a technique called nanoimprint lithography, these researchers blasted a sheet of light-sensitive material with electron beams, resulting in narrow shapes about 10 nanometers in width. These were then used to form a reusable mold in order to create a flexible silicon membrane. Wielding a nanoscale knife, researchers then cut nanometer-sized trenches into the membrane, adding wide gates on top of those trenches so they could serve as switches. This 3D pattern allows the transistor to operate more efficiently and consume less energy and power.
The end-product of this process results in a tiny, flexible transistor that is extremely durable and bendable, possessing the ability to wirelessly transmit data at 38 GHz. Researchers posit these transistors could be pushed to speeds of 110 GHz, which is the speed at which the fastest computers operate. With this kind of speed, these transistors can send data or power at much faster and stronger rates, leading to more powerful wearables than those available today.
“Nanoimprint lithography addresses future applications for flexible electronics,” said Professor Zhenqiang Ma, lead researcher for the project. “We don’t want to make them the way the semiconductor industry does now. Our step, which is most critical for roll-to-roll printing, is ready.” His reference to roll-to-roll printing means that the transistor’s reusable mold will enable manufacturers of semiconductors to mass-produce multiple devices on a single role of flexible plastic. Additionally, because of the transistor’s miniscule size, more than one transistor can be placed in a device like a wearable to give it an extra performance and power boost. While this research is still in its nascent stages, the breakthroughs Ma and his team have made are extremely promising for the future of wearable technology.