Playing Ball with Liquid Metal Marbles: Breakthrough in Flexible Electronics

Imagine a flexible electronic circuit with stretchable interconnects, reconfigurable wires, and extendable antennas, which could also heal itself in response to being damaged. It sounds far-fetched, but this type of circuit has taken another step towards reality, according new results on liquid metal marbles by Professor Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh and co-workers.

In this study, droplets of the liquid metal galinstan (a eutectic alloy made up of gallium, indium, and tin) were covered with insulating metal oxide nanoparticles such as tungsten oxide (WOx).  The researchers then investigated the properties of these coated metal droplets by measuring the contact angle, splitting and fusing the droplets by applying a force, and observing their dynamic properties during free fall and impact with a solid surface.

As seen in the videos below, the simple addition of the oxide nanoparticles to the surface results in a dramatic difference in behavior.  This then also changes the way these droplets behave in electrical contact, and it could open up new uses for liquid metal in electronic circuits.

As a proof of concept, the authors fabricated a sensitive electrochemical detector for heavy metal ions, such as cadmium and lead, in aqueous solution using the liquid metal marbles as the active component.  The new possible applications of these liquid metal marbles are only limited by the imagination, and as long as the scientists continue to play, we can expect continued discoveries, and one day, we may wonder how we ever lived without liquid electronic circuits.

Free fall of a droplet of liquid metal galinstan and its contact with a solid surface.

Free fall of a droplet of liquid metal galinstan that has been covered in oxide nanoparticles and its subsequent contact with a solid surface.

PDFLink to the original paper on Wiley Online Library
About John Uhlrich

John Uhlrich is currently an Associate Editor at Wiley-VCH, where he is responsible for the journal Energy Technology, which was launched in January of 2013. John earned his B.S. from the University of Missouri and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, both in chemical engineering. He worked at the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin before joining Wiley in 2011, where he also previously worked with the Wiley journals Advanced Materials and Advanced Functional Materials.

Comments

  1. Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh says:

    Dear John

    Many thanks for the fantastic article and reference to our work – greatly written and very accurate. I would also like to highlight Prof Arnan Michell’s contribution (the other corresponding author of the paper) . He was the one who initially thought about this interesting idea that we examined for various applications.

    Kind regards,

    Kourosh

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