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Nanotube Electronics Flex With Self-Styled Wrappers

Nanomaterials: Single-walled carbon nanotubes help create self-wrapping sensors and transistors

by Matt Davenport
June 15, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 24

Credit: Adv. Sci.
This nanotube-based device wraps around the bridge of a pair of glasses.
Photo of glasses wrapped with a nanotube electronic device.
Credit: Adv. Sci.
This nanotube-based device wraps around the bridge of a pair of glasses.

Carbon nanotubes are now helping researchers bend flexible electronics to their whims. Engineers led by Zhenan Bao of Stanford University have combined nanotube films with shape-memory polymers to create self-wrapping three-dimensional devices, such as sensors and transistors (Adv. Sci. 2015, DOI: 10.1002/advs.201500103). The team constructed its devices on flexible bilayers of polyimide and shape-memory polystyrene, which bend into predetermined shapes upon heating. By building multiple miniature metallic heating circuits onto polymer bilayers, the team can controllably wrap their devices around objects with diameters as small as 750 µm. To add further functionality to this flexibility, the researchers have turned to thin films of semiconducting single-walled nanotubes. These nanotube films, which are deposited from solution, maintain their electronic properties as they bend and stretch with the polymers, allowing the team to wrap up previously planar nanotube devices, including hydrogen gas sensors and transistor circuits. Although nanotubes are a robust material choice for these devices, the researchers say the self-wrapping substrates could also support other flexible electronics, such as nanostructured metal or silicon.


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