August 18, 2015

A thin ribbon of flexible electronics can monitor health, infrastructure

Stretchy, bendable electronics could have many uses, such as monitoring patients’ health
and keeping tabs on airplanes. Credit: Benjamin Leever, Ph.D.

(August 18, 2015)  A new world of flexible, bendable, even stretchable electronics is emerging from research labs to address a wide range of potentially game-changing uses. The common, rigid printed circuit board is slowly being replaced by a thin ribbon of resilient, high-performance electronics. Over the last few years, one team of chemists and materials scientists has begun exploring military applications in harsh environments for aircraft, explosive devices and even combatants themselves.

Researchers will provide an update on the latest technologies, as well as future research plans, at the 250th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS). ACS is the world’s largest scientific society. The meeting takes place here through Thursday.

“Basically, we are using a hybrid technology that mixes traditional electronics with flexible, high-performance electronics and new 3-D printing technologies,” says Benjamin J. Leever, Ph.D., who is at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “In some cases, we incorporate ‘inks,’ which are based on metals, polymers and organic materials, to tie the system together electronically. With our technology, we can take a razor-thin silicon integrated circuit, a few hundred nanometers thick, and place it on a flexible, bendable or even foldable, plastic-like substrate material,” he says.

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