Networks of spherical nanoparticles embedded in elastic materials may make the best stretchy conductors yet, engineering researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered.
The team was surprised that spherical gold nanoparticles embedded in polyurethane could outcompete the best of these in stretchability and concentration of electrons.
The team made two versions of their material—by building it in alternating layers or filtering a liquid containing polyurethane and nanoparticle clumps to leave behind a mixed layer. Overall, the layer-by-layer material design is more conductive while the filtered method makes for extremely supple materials. Without stretching, the layer-by-layer material with five gold layers has a conductance of 11,000 Siemens per centimeter (S/cm), on par with mercury, while five layers of the filtered material came in at 1,800 S/cm, more akin to good plastic conductors.
Even when close to its breaking point, at a little more than twice its original length, the layer-by-layer material still conducted at 2,400 S/cm. Pulled to an unprecedented 5.8 times its original length, the filtered material had an electrical conductance of 35 S/cm—enough for some devices.
Kotov's team is exploring various nanoparticle fillers for stretchable electronics, including less expensive metals and semiconductors.
"It's just the start of a new family of materials that can be made from a large variety of nanoparticles for a wide range of applications."