When tasked to picture or visualize any piece of tech, device, gadget, etc., most often, you’re gonna come up with an image that was constructed by metal, plastic, wires, circuits or a combination of the like. A foreign sounding ingredient for any piece of tech is liquid, but you might need to start shifting your perception on what goes into making the next, great tech device. Liquid metal electronics are the latest in a wave of next-gen materials that are making better and bolder tech become tomorrow’s reality.
Thanks to a team of Swiss researchers, the look, feel and performance of wearables, like smart-tech clothing, and even robots may drastically improve thanks to liquid metal electronics. These extremely thin electronic circuits act almost like rubber, with the ability to stretch up to four times their original length. These babies pack some pretty impressive endurance levels too – the researchers note that these circuits can be stretched any which way almost a million times before they even start to show signs of wear and tear or a loss of conductivity.
This hybrid creation that was inspired by the properties of both solid metal and liquid metal alloys was developed into a film when researchers used a silicon-based substrate with a ridiculously complex name that we’ll just thankfully refer to by its more manageable acronym: PDMS. Due to an intense scientific process that involves metallic bi-layers, gallium and melting points, they ended up with a material that can be lithographed onto any surface while maintaining the complexity of typical electronic circuits. This eschews the need to print circuits on a board, lending liquid metal electronics more accessibility, becoming an ingredient more easily manipulated than your standard circuits or electronics.
These super stretchy conductive tracks and circuits have far-reaching (no pun intended) applications, including use in biological sensors, wearables and artificial skin for skin-graft patients, prosthetics and even robots. Because of their flexibility and durability, liquid metal electronics are especially ideal as a material that can seamlessly (okay, this one was sort of intended) be sewn into the fabric of wearable electronic clothes. By being better able to interact with the mushy human form, liquid metal electronics will expand the capabilities of many devices and gadgets that interact directly with humans.