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Multifunctional Origami Structures made from paper treated with liquid metal CREDIT Cell Reports Physical Sciences/Yuan et al.
Multifunctional Origami Structures made from paper treated with liquid metal CREDIT Cell Reports Physical Sciences/Yuan et al.

Abstract:
Everyday materials such as paper and plastic can be turned into electronic “smart devices” by using a simple new method of applying molten metal to surfaces, according to scientists in Beijing, China. The study, published June 9 in the journal Cell Reports Physical Science, demonstrates a technique for applying a layer of liquid metal to surfaces that do not bond easily with the liquid metal. This approach is designed to work at scale and may have applications in wearable test platforms, flexible devices, and soft robots

The molten metal sticks to the surface without a binder

Cambridge, M.A. | Posted on June 9, 2023

“Previously, we thought that liquid metal was impossible to stick to non-wetted surfaces easily, but here it can stick to various surfaces just by adjusting the pressure, which is very exciting,” said Bo Yuan, a scientist at Tsinghua. University and first author of the study.

Scientists wishing to combine liquid metals with traditional materials are hindered by the extremely high surface tension of liquid metals, which prevents them from bonding to most materials, including paper. To solve this problem, previous research has mainly focused on a technique called “transfer printing”, which uses a third material to bond the molten metal to a surface. But this strategy has drawbacks—adding more ingredients can complicate the process and can compromise the electrical, thermal, or mechanical performance of the final product.

To explore alternative approaches that would allow them to print liquid metals directly on substrates without sacrificing metallic properties, Yuan and colleagues applied two different liquid metals (eGaln and BilnSn) to various silicon stamps and silicon polymers, then applied different forces as they rubbed together. stamp onto the surface of the paper.

“Initially, it was difficult to realize stable adhesion of the molten metal layer on the substrate,” said Yuan. “However, after much trial and error, we finally had the right parameters to achieve stable and repeatable adhesion.”

The researchers found that rubbing a stamp covered in molten metal onto the paper with a little force allowed the metal droplets to bond effectively to the surface, while applying more force prevented the drops from staying in place.

Next, the team folded the metallized paper into a paper crane, showing that the surface could still be folded as normal once the process was complete. And after doing so, the modified paper still retains its usual properties.

While the technique looks promising, Yuan notes that researchers are still looking for ways to guarantee the molten metal coating stays in place after it’s been applied. For now, packaging materials can be added to the surface of the paper, but the team hopes to find a solution that doesn’t require it.

“Just as wet ink on paper can be erased by hand, the unpackaged liquid metal coating here can also be erased by objects it touches when it is applied,” Yuan said. “The properties of the coating itself will not be massively affected, but objects that come into contact with it can get dirty.”

In the future, the team also plans to build on the method so it can be used to apply molten metals to a wider variety of surfaces, including metals and ceramics.

“We also plan to make smart devices using materials treated by this method,” said Yuan.

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This work was supported by the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation, National Nature Science Foundation of China, and co-funding between Nanshan and Tsinghua SIGS in science and technology.

Report of Cell Physics, Yuan et al. “Direct manufacture of liquid metal multifunctional paper based on responsive adhesion” https://www.cell.com/cell-reports-physical-science/fulltext/S2666-3864(23)00193-5

Cell Reports of Physical Sciences, published by Cell Press, is a new, wide-reaching, open-access journal that publishes cutting-edge research across the spectrum of physical sciences, including chemistry, physics, materials science, energy science, engineering, and related interdisciplinary work. Visit https://www.cell.com/cell-reports-physical-science/home. To receive Cell Press media alerts, please call

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