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A new potential manufacturing approach from Purdue University researchers harnesses inkjet printing to create devices made of liquid alloys. The resulting stretchable electronics are compatible with soft machines, such as robots that must squeeze through small spaces, or wearable electronics.

The conductors made from liquid metal can stretch and deform without breaking. The Purdue team's process allows users to print the flexible conductors onto elastic materials and fabrics.

To make the printable ink, ultrasound technology disperses the liquid metal in a non-metallic solvent. The process breaks up the bulk liquid metal into nanoparticles, which are compatible with inkjet printing. After printing, the nanoparticles must be rejoined by applying light pressure, which renders the material conductive.

Future research will explore how the interaction between the ink and the surface being printed on might be conducive to the production of specific types of devices. The researchers also will study and model how individual particles rupture when pressure is applied, providing information that could allow the manufacture of ultra-thin traces and new types of sensors.

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Also: Learn about Inkjet-Assisted Creation of Self-Healing Layers.