Understanding Conductivity in Printed Films for Flexible Electronic Devices

Researchers have identified how electrons are transported through key 3D materials for the development of components that can be integrated in textiles, paper, and even human tissue.

Elizabeth Montalbano

February 1, 2022

3 Min Read
Scientists from Imperial College London and Politecnico di Torino have shown how electricity is transported in printed 2D materials, paving the way for the design of flexible devices for healthcare and beyond. Imperial College London

Researchers have made a breakthrough in working with the conductivity of two-dimensional (2D) materials that paves the way for high-performance flexible electronic devices using semi-transparent, flexible, and ultra-thin films that can be made from these materials.

A team of scientific collaborators from Imperial College London and Politecnico di Torino in Italy have demonstrated how electricity is transported in printed 2D materials, revealing the physical mechanisms that make conductivity possible.

This finding identifies what properties of 2D material films scientists need to tweak to make electronic devices to order, allowing for the replacement of rigid silicon chips in electronic devices and thus a more flexible range of products, researchers said. These include the integration of electronics into stretchable textiles, paper, or even tissues inside the human body, they said.

“Our results [enable] not only the controlled design and engineering of future printed electronics based on 2D materials but also new types of flexible electronic devices,” explained Felice Torrisi, a professor in Imperial College’s Department of Chemistry.

The work can facilitate the design of reliable wearable devices suitable for biomedical applications--such as the remote monitoring of patients--or bio-implantable devices for long-term monitoring of degenerative diseases or healing processes, he said.

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Understanding Electron Transport

Scientists already have developed flexible electronic devices from 2D material inks. However, so far all of these devices have been proof-of-concepts with limited use or viability for commercial or industrial application.

The key drawback has been that scientists didn’t fully understand how electronic charge is transported through 2D materials, which is what the collaborative team achieved in its work. This is key because it “underpins the way we manufacture printed electronic components,” said Renato Gonnelli, a professor from the Politecnico di Torino.

“By identifying the mechanisms responsible for such electronic transport, we will be able to achieve the optimum design of high-performance printed electronics,” he said in a press statement.

Specifically, researchers investigated three widely used types of 2D materials: carbon-based graphene; molybdenum disulfide, or MoS2; and titanium carbide MXene or Ti3C2. For each, they mapped how the behavior of the electrical charge transport changed under specific conditions, such as changes in temperature, magnetic field, and electric field, they said.

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Design of Novel Devices

Researchers published a paper on their work in the journal Nature Electronics.

The relationships the team discovered between 2D material type and the controls on electrical-charge transport can help other scientists design printed and flexible electronic devices with the properties they desire based on how they need the electrical charge to behave, researchers said.

Researchers also can use the 2D-material films to create entirely new types of electrical components--such as transparent components or ones that modify and transmit light in new ways--that currently can’t be constructed because of the limitations of silicon chips, they said.

In addition, the work can inform the design of new electronic and optoelectronic devices that take advantage of innovative properties of graphene and other 2D materials, such as high mobility, optical transparency, and mechanical strength, researchers added.

Elizabeth Montalbano is a freelance writer who has written about technology and culture for more than 20 years. She has lived and worked as a professional journalist in Phoenix, San Francisco, and New York City. In her free time, she enjoys surfing, traveling, music, yoga, and cooking. She currently resides in a village on the southwest coast of Portugal.

About the Author(s)

Elizabeth Montalbano

Elizabeth Montalbano has been a professional journalist covering the telecommunications, technology and business sectors since 1998. Prior to her work at Design News, she has previously written news, features and opinion articles for Phone+, CRN (now ChannelWeb), the IDG News Service, Informationweek and CNNMoney, among other publications. Born and raised in Philadelphia, she also has lived and worked in Phoenix, Arizona; San Francisco and New York City. She currently resides in Lagos, Portugal. Montalbano has a bachelor's degree in English/Communications from De Sales University and a master's degree from Arizona State University in creative writing.

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