A team of engineers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are using Shrinky Dinks material, a polystyrene that shrinks under high heat, to close the gap between nanowires in an array to make them useful for high-performance electronics applications. The group published its technique in the journal, Nano Letters.

The researchers clamp the plastic so that it only shrinks in one direction. (Credit: SungWoo Nam)

Nanowires, while extremely fast, efficient semiconductors, need to be packed together in dense arrays to be useful for electronics applications. They struggled to find a way to place large numbers of nanowires together, aligned in the same direction, and only one layer thick. With the shrinking approach, researchers can make nanowires and nanotubes using any method they like and use the shrinking action to compact them into a higher density, they said.

By placing the nanowires on the Shrinky Dinks plastic, then shrinking it to bring the wires closer together, allows them to create very dense arrays of nanowires in a simple, flexible, and very controllable way.

In addition, the shrinking method brings the nanowires into alignment as they increase in density. They demonstrated how even wires more than 30 degrees off-kilter can be brought into perfect alignment after shrinking.