June 18, 2009

Scientists study stretchable electronics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers are developing a method to precisely control the fabrication of stretchable electronics.

The scientists said stretchable electronics would enable electronic devices to be embedded in clothing, surgical gloves or other flexible materials. But the concept is difficult to engineer because electrical wiring tends to be damaged as the material twists.

The MIT research team launched the project as an analysis of the wrinkling and delamination of stickers. The small blisters that appear in stickers attached to car windows are a common example of such delamination.

The researchers said they performed experiments to stretch and compress surfaces with thin films attached to them, and then measured the dimensions of resulting blisters. From that data the team developed a theory to explain the formation, size and evolution of the blisters.

Although delamination is usually viewed as something to avoid, the researchers said they realized that by intentionally creating delaminated surfaces, they could design devices that allow wires attached to a surface to move without breaking. If the wires are already partially separated from the material, they won't break by twisting and stretching of the substrate.

The study that included MIT math instructor Pedro Reis, along with Dominic Vella, Jose Bico, Arezki Boudaoud and Benoit Roman of the French National Center for Scientific Research, appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.