Two new discoveries may revolutionize small devices.

April 2, 2010

Two new discoveries may revolutionize small devices Both Princeton and Georgia Tech have developed new technologies that may make all of the devices we carry cheaper and lighter.  Princeton has developed plastic electronics that can be molded into any shape.  Princeton’s development will also work very well for lowering the cost of solar panels.  Georgia Tech’s tiny self powering nanogenerators can be used in a variety of devices reducing the need for batteries.

Plastic Transistor Princeton’s plastic electronics are a breakthrough in conductive plastics.  Plastics that would conduct a charge have been around for a while but once they were molded, their conductive abilities were greatly diminished.  The researchers realized that the plastics lost their conductivity when they became rigid after molding.  By acid washing the molded plastic, flexibility was maintained and so was its ability to conduct a charge.

The plastic circuits can replace the more expensive indium tin oxide (ITO) that is used in making solar cells.  The new circuits can be printed onto various surfaces.  Since the process can make mass production easy, this new plastic technology can be used to lower the cost of solar cells and can be used in lots of different devices.

Georgia Tech’s self powering nanogenerators can be paired with nanowire sensors to make very tiny self powering sensors.  The sensors can be used for a variety of purposes like detecting ultraviolet light and the pH of liquids. 

 Schematic of a nanogenerator

The tiny sensor’s get their power from “mechanical energy in the environment.”  The zinc oxide wires are subjected to strain that produces electrical charges.  Simply flexing the wires will create a charge.  Combining lots of wires increases the charge. 

These nanowires can be embedded in a polymer that will allow them “to be flexed in a nanogenerator”.  The wires can be grown on flexible and foldable substrates that will allow them to be used in a variety of ways. 

Energy sources could include the motion of tides, sonic waves, mechanical vibration, the flapping of a flag in the wind, pressure from shoes of a hiker or the movement of clothing.

Combine the printable plastic circuits with the nanogenerators and batteries may someday be obsolete while our devices will be lighter. 

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