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The transparent and flexible electronics of the future could be printed with an ordinary printer

The transparent and flexible electronics of the future could be printed with an ordinary printer


New liquid alloy promises a world of exciting possibilities

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If the dreamers of the tech world have their way, the day will come when we'll use 3D printers to produce everything we need, from nourishing meals to spacecraft parts. Electronics have proven tougher to manufacture at home, however, due to their need for rigid circuit boards and highly integrated components. That's the problem addressed by a recently published paper from three Chinese researchers, who claim to have demonstrated a metal alloy that's liquid at room temperature and therefore printable with something as conventional as a standard inkjet printer.

Because of its liquid state, their particular mix of gallium and indium can be printed on pretty much any surface — allowing DIY enthusiasts the chance to print electronic circuits on pretty much anything they can lay their hands on: T-shirts, paper, plastic, rubber, even a leaf!

Gallium + indium = revolution?

While you can easily envision how that would help advance the cause of creating more attractive and varied wearable electronics, there's an even more tantalizing promise here. Jing Liu, author of the research paper, suggests it is possible to adapt the alloy to generate a transparent conductive film that allows 47 percent of light to pass through it. Should that truly be viable, all those concepts of see-through smartphones may be brought a few notches closer to reality.

It all sounds too good to be true, but the research team isn't shy about the potential of its work. It describes the main advantage of the liquid alloy as helping to speed up prototyping and the transitioning of novel devices from the concept stage to marketable products. Given how basic their discovery is and the absence of any specialized equipment requirement, this could be one invention that makes its effects felt on the real world sooner rather than later.