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Transparent Printable Plastic is Highly Conductive

PMMA-sheet

US mechanical engineering research scientist James Pond and researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a transparent polymer film that conducts electricity as effectively as other commonly used materials and is flexible enough to be used on an industrial scale. This production process is expected to lead to the emergence of new flexible, transparent electronic devices, such as wearable biosensors, organic photovoltaic cells, and virtual or augmented reality displays and glasses.

To create a plastic film that could carry an electrical charge, the researchers started with a polymer called PEDOT. This polymer easily conducts electricity, but it is difficult to process because it is insoluble and infusible. But when side chains are added to the PEDOT structure, it can dissolve and be used like a printable ink or spray paint. However, these side chains are essentially waxy, and wax does not conduct electricity very well. So, when processing was complete, the researchers knocked out the side chains and cleaned them.

The researchers create polymers with side chains for printing or spraying, then chemically cut the side chains and wash them away with common industrial solvents. After a final conversion step, the result is a flexible, highly conductive film that is stable and impermeable to water or other solvents.

The new material is named PEDOT(OH). In the future, it could have applications in flat-panel displays, photovoltaics, smart windows and other materials such as indium tin oxide, one of the most widely used transparent conductors.

The team published their findings in two chemistry journals this year, first describing the idea and demonstrating that it was possible in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. Recently, they optimized the design for maximum conductivity, and the results were published in the latest issue of “German Applied Chemistry”.

The researchers say it’s quite difficult to create flexible, flexible devices using indium tin oxide because it’s a brittle material that breaks easily. The newly designed polymers are flexible, and future applications in bioelectronics, such as devices that can be implanted in the skin, will be where these materials that combine mechanical flexibility, conductivity and transparency will shine.

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