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Scientists create 'liquid metal marbles'

Posted: 15 Jan 2013     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:liquid metal marbles  nanoparticles  soft electronics  semiconducting-conducting  transistors 

Scientists have created "liquid metal marbles"—droplets of liquid metal coated in nanoparticles – that will advance research in soft electronics and industrial sensing technologies.

"The breakthrough could pave the way for new developments in soft electronics," said lead investigator Dr Vijay Sivan from RMIT's Platform Technologies Research Institute.

A team of researchers developed the new platform by covering the surface of liquid metal droplets with selected nano-coatings, resulting in "marbles" that were both non-stick and durable. The liquid metal marbles—which have a highly conductive core and a coating of functional nanoparticles with highly controlled electronic properties—were developed as part of investigations into flexible conductive systems for electronic and electromagnetic units.

"The 'liquid metal marbles' our team has developed are like flexible ball bearings with extraordinary physical properties," Sivan said. "They can endure high impacts without disintegrating, can tolerate high temperatures, can operate like semiconducting-conducting systems—the base of transistors—and are compatible with micro and nano-fluidic systems."

"The possibilities this new platform offers are amazing and we look forward to exploring the potential of 'liquid metal marbles' in a range of applications," he said.

"This simple approach overcomes the limitations of droplets and liquid metals and means we can use a broad range of powder coating materials, from insulating to semiconducting and highly conducting."

The idea of building liquid electronics based on liquid metal marbles is unique, as they can not only move and form makeshift electronic devices, they can also produce strong plasmonic fields around them, said the research team.

"For sensing applications, these marbles are the safest alternative to mercury-based heavy metal ion sensors, while their thermal conduction properties are also fascinating, and should be further investigated."

The research has been published in the Advanced Functional Materials journal.

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