Ancient Paper Art, Kirigami, May Be Key to Improving Smart Clothing

The image above shows an electronic circuit being increasingly stretched. (Credit: Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo)
The image above shows an electronic circuit being increasingly stretched. (Credit: Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo)

Like a yoga novice, electronic components don’t stretch easily. But that’s changing thanks to a variation of origami that involves cutting folded pieces of paper.

In a study published April 2 in the journal Advanced Materials, a University at Buffalo-led research team describes how kirigami has inspired its efforts to build malleable electronic circuits.

Their innovation — creating tiny sheets of strong yet bendable electronic materials made of select polymers and nanowires — could lead to improvements in smart clothing, electronic skin, and other applications that require pliable circuitry.

Lead author Shenqiang Ren, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, explains:

The study, which includes computational modeling contributions from Temple University researchers, employs nanoconfinement engineering and strain engineering (a strategy in semiconductor manufacturing used to boost device performance).

Without kirigami, the polymer — known as PthTFB — can be deformed up to 6 percent from its original shape without changing its electronic conductivity. With kirigami, the polymer can stretch up to 2,000 percent. Also, the conductivity of PthTFB with kirigami increases by three orders of magnitude.

The images above, from the top left moving clockwise, shows an electronic circuit being increasingly stretched. (Credit: Shenqiang Ren)

The images above, from the top left moving clockwise, shows an electronic circuit being increasingly stretched. (Credit: Shenqiang Ren)

The advancement has many potential applications, including electronic skin (thin electronic material that mimics human skin, often used in robotic and health applications), bendable display screens and electronic paper.

But its most useful application could be in smart clothing, a market that analysts says could reach $4 billion by 2024.

Provided by: University at Buffalo [Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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