Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Flexible electronics


Wearable sensor technologies are essential to the realization of personalized medicine through continuously monitoring an individual’s state of health. Sampling human sweat, which is rich in physiological information, could enable non-invasive monitoring. Previously reported sweat-based and other non-invasive biosensors either can only monitor a single analyte at a time or lack on-site signal processing circuitry and sensor calibration mechanisms for accurate analysis of the physiological state. Given the complexity of sweat secretion, simultaneous and multiplexed screening of target biomarkers is critical and requires full system integration to ensure the accuracy of measurements. Here we present a mechanically flexible and fully integrated (that is, no external analysis is needed) sensor array for multiplexed in situ perspiration analysis, which simultaneously and selectively measures sweat metabolites (such as glucose and lactate) and electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium ions), as well as the skin temperature (to calibrate the response of the sensors). Our work bridges the technological gap between signal transduction, conditioning (amplification and filtering), processing and wireless transmission in wearable biosensors by merging plastic-based sensors that interface with the skin with silicon integrated circuits consolidated on a flexible circuit board for complex signal processing. This application could not have been realized using either of these technologies alone owing to their respective inherent limitations. The wearable system is used to measure the detailed sweat profile of human subjects engaged in prolonged indoor and outdoor physical activities, and to make a real-time assessment of the physiological state of the subjects. This platform enables a wide range of personalized diagnostic and physiological monitoring applications.

Concepts: Measurement, Signal processing, Integrated circuit, Potassium, Electrical engineering, Sensor, Sensors, Flexible electronics


We fabricated flexible, transparent, and conductive metal grids as Transparent Conductive Materials (TCM) with adjustable properties by direct nanoimprinting of self-assembling colloidal metal nanowires. Ultrathin gold nanowires (diameter below 2 nm) with high mechanical flexibility were confined in a stamp and readily adapted to its features. During drying, the wires self-assembled into dense bundles that percolated throughout the stamp. The high aspect ratio and the bundling yielded continuous, hierarchical superstructures that connected the entire mesh even at low gold contents. A soft sintering step removed the ligand barriers but retained the imprinted structure. The material exhibited high conductivities (sheet resistances down to 29 Ω/sq) and transparencies that could be tuned by changing wire concentration and stamp geometry. We obtained TCMs that are suitable for applications such as touch screens. Mechanical bending tests showed a much higher bending resistance than commercial ITO: conductivity dropped by only 5.6 % after 450 bending cycles at a bending radius of 5 mm.

Concepts: Ratio, Copper, Solar cell, Electrical conductivity, Aspect ratio, Wire, Flexible, Flexible electronics


Solution processing is a promising route for the realization of low-cost, large-area, flexible and lightweight photovoltaic devices with short energy payback time and high specific power. However, solar cells based on solution-processed organic, inorganic and hybrid materials reported thus far generally suffer from poor air stability, require an inert-atmosphere processing environment or necessitate high-temperature processing, all of which increase manufacturing complexities and costs. Simultaneously fulfilling the goals of high efficiency, low-temperature fabrication conditions and good atmospheric stability remains a major technical challenge, which may be addressed, as we demonstrate here, with the development of room-temperature solution-processed ZnO/PbS quantum dot solar cells. By engineering the band alignment of the quantum dot layers through the use of different ligand treatments, a certified efficiency of 8.55% has been reached. Furthermore, the performance of unencapsulated devices remains unchanged for over 150 days of storage in air. This material system introduces a new approach towards the goal of high-performance air-stable solar cells compatible with simple solution processes and deposition on flexible substrates.

Concepts: Oxygen, Quantum dot, Cadmium, Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Photovoltaic module, Band gap, Flexible electronics


Large-area Cu nanosheets are synthesized by a strategy of Cu nanocrystal self-assembly, and then aqueous conductive Cu-nanosheet ink is successfully prepared for direct writing of the conductive circuits on flexible electronics. The Cu nanocrystals, as building blocks, are self-assembled along <111> direction, and grow into large-area nanosheets about 30 to 100 μm in diameter and a few hundreds nm in thickness. The laminar stackable patterns of the Cu-nanosheet circuits increase contact area of the Cu nanosheets and improve the stability of the conductor under stress, with the result that the Cu-nanosheet circuits display excellent conductive performance under folding and unfolding repeatedly. Moreover, heterostructures of Ag nanoparticles coated Cu nanosheets are achieved for improving the thermal stability of the nanosheet circuits at high temperature.

Concepts: Electricity, Improve, Copper, Synthesis, Electrical conductivity, Nanocrystal, Electronic engineering, Flexible electronics


Pristine graphene is the strongest material ever measured. However, large-area graphene films produced by means of chemical vapor deposition (CVD) are polycrystalline and thus contain grain boundaries that can potentially weaken the material. We combined structural characterization by means of transmission electron microscopy with nanoindentation in order to study the mechanical properties of CVD-graphene films with different grain sizes. We show that the elastic stiffness of CVD-graphene is identical to that of pristine graphene if postprocessing steps avoid damage or rippling. Its strength is only slightly reduced despite the existence of grain boundaries. Indentation tests directly on grain boundaries confirm that they are almost as strong as pristine. Graphene films consisting entirely of well-stitched grain boundaries can retain ultrahigh strength, which is critical for a large variety of applications, such as flexible electronics and strengthening components.

Concepts: Electron, Carbon nanotube, Materials science, Transmission electron microscopy, Chemical vapor deposition, Scanning electron microscope, Stiffness, Flexible electronics


Fast flexible electronics operating at radio frequencies (>1 GHz) are more attractive than traditional flexible electronics because of their versatile capabilities, dramatic power savings when operating at reduced speed and broader spectrum of applications. Transferrable single-crystalline Si nanomembranes (SiNMs) are preferred to other materials for flexible electronics owing to their unique advantages. Further improvement of Si-based device speed implies significant technical and economic advantages. While the mobility of bulk Si can be enhanced using strain techniques, implementing these techniques into transferrable single-crystalline SiNMs has been challenging and not demonstrated. The past approach presents severe challenges to achieve effective doping and desired material topology. Here we demonstrate the combination of strained- NM-compatible doping techniques with self-sustained-strain sharing by applying a strain-sharing scheme between Si and SiGe multiple epitaxial layers, to create strained print-transferrable SiNMs. We demonstrate a new speed record of Si-based flexible electronics without using aggressively scaled critical device dimensions.

Concepts: Silicon, Hertz, Germanium, Radio, Amorphous silicon, Electronic engineering, Flexible electronics, Semiconductor materials


Photovoltaic technology requires light-absorbing materials that are highly efficient, lightweight, low cost and stable during operation. Organolead halide perovskites constitute a highly promising class of materials, but suffer limited stability under ambient conditions without heavy and costly encapsulation. Here, we report ultrathin (3 μm), highly flexible perovskite solar cells with stabilized 12% efficiency and a power-per-weight as high as 23 W g(-1). To facilitate air-stable operation, we introduce a chromium oxide-chromium interlayer that effectively protects the metal top contacts from reactions with the perovskite. The use of a transparent polymer electrode treated with dimethylsulphoxide as the bottom layer allows the deposition-from solution at low temperature-of pinhole-free perovskite films at high yield on arbitrary substrates, including thin plastic foils. These ultra-lightweight solar cells are successfully used to power aviation models. Potential future applications include unmanned aerial vehicles-from airplanes to quadcopters and weather balloons-for environmental and industrial monitoring, rescue and emergency response, and tactical security applications.

Concepts: Solar cell, Photovoltaics, Diode, Solar energy, Photovoltaic module, Photovoltaic array, Flexible electronics, Solar tracker


Solution coating of organic semiconductors offers great potential for achieving low-cost manufacturing of large-area and flexible electronics. However, the rapid coating speed needed for industrial-scale production poses challenges to the control of thin-film morphology. Here, we report an approach-termed fluid-enhanced crystal engineering (FLUENCE)-that allows for a high degree of morphological control of solution-printed thin films. We designed a micropillar-patterned printing blade to induce recirculation in the ink for enhancing crystal growth, and engineered the curvature of the ink meniscus to control crystal nucleation. Using FLUENCE, we demonstrate the fast coating and patterning of millimetre-wide, centimetre-long, highly aligned single-crystalline organic semiconductor thin films. In particular, we fabricated thin films of 6,13-bis(triisopropylsilylethynyl) pentacene having non-equilibrium single-crystalline domains and an unprecedented average and maximum mobilities of 8.1±1.2 cm(2) V(-1) s(-1) and 11 cm(2) V(-1) s(-1). FLUENCE of organic semiconductors with non-equilibrium single-crystalline domains may find use in the fabrication of high-performance, large-area printed electronics.

Concepts: Gallium arsenide, Semiconductor, Thin film, Nucleation, Organic semiconductor, Organic electronics, Flexible electronics, Pentacene


Solar cell substrates require high optical transparency, but also prefer high optical haze to increase the light scattering and consequently the absorption in the active materials. Unfortunately there is a tradeoff between these optical properties, which is exemplified by common transparent paper substrates exhibiting a transparency of about 90% yet a low optical haze (< 20%). In this work we introduce a novel transparent paper made of wood fibers that display both ultra-high optical transparency (~96%) and ultra-high haze (~60%), thus delivering an optimal substrate design for solar cell devices. Compared to previously demonstrated nanopaper composed of wood-based cellulose nanofibers, our novel transparent paper has better dual performance in transmittance and haze, but also is fabricated at a much lower cost. This high-performance, low-cost transparent paper is a potentially revolutionary material that may influence a new generation of environmentally friendly printed electronics.

Concepts: Enzyme, Optics, Optical fiber, Solar cell, Absorption, Cellulose, Transparency and translucency, Flexible electronics


Nanowires are being actively explored as promising nanostructured materials for high performance flexible electronics, bio-chemical sensors, photonic applications, solar cells, and secondary batteries. In particular, ultra-long (centimeter-long) nanowires are highly attractive from the perspective of electronic performance, device throughput (or productivity), increased surface to volume ratio, and the possibility of novel applications. However, most previous works have reported nanowires with length of less than several micrometers, and there have been very few reports of nanowires with length of centimeter order. Here, we demonstrate an ultra-long (up to 20cm) nanowire array, with a diameter of 50nm (aspect ratio of up to 4,000,000:1), in an unprecedented large (8-inch) scale (2,000,000 strands on a wafer). We first devised a perfectly connected ultra-long nanograting master template on the whole area of an 8-inch substrate using a top-down approach, with a density equivalent to that achieved with e-beam lithography (100nm). Using this large-area, ultra-long, high-density nanograting template, we developed a fast and effective method for fabricating up to 20cm-long nanowire arrays on a plastic substrate, composed of metal, dielectric, oxide, and ferroelectric materials.

Concepts: Volume, Orders of magnitude, Nanowire, Cadmium, Solar cell, Aspect ratio, Top-down and bottom-up design, Flexible electronics