Bucky gel enables stretchable conductors

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Researchers at Tokyo University, led by Takao Someya, have developed a stretchable, flexible conducting material from a mix of carbon nanotubes and a polymer material.

The nanotubes retain current carrying capability after being encapsulated by the polymer that provides flexibility.

To reduce clumping of the carbon nanotubes an ionic liquid was used to create a black, pasty concoction the researchers call bucky gel, after the US architect Buckminster Fuller whose buildings resembled the structure of carbon nanotubes.

The bucky gel was then mixed with a rubber-like substance called a fluorinated copolymer and poured onto a glass plate.

The researchers then coated the substance with silicone rubber and punched tiny holes all over the matrix to increase its flexibility.

The resulting material can be stretched by up to 38 per cent of its original length without loss of conductivity because enough of the nanotubes stay in contact to continue to carry electricity.

The applications in flexible PCB substrates are very wide. You could have a roll-up or fold-up PC in your pocket (when we get roll-up/fold-up displays), and it can be used to make clothes which can provide electronic functions.

The technology is also expected to help integrate electronics into the human body, where a high level of flexibility is required.

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