Liquid metal could turn paper into smart object

Liquid metal could turn paper into smart object

Technology News |
By Wisse Hettinga

This futuristic new liquid-metal coating can make ordinary objects extraordinary – Ars Technica

While paper isn’t exactly a smart material, it someday could be if it is covered in a new type of liquid metal. This liquid alloy has the potential to turn paper and other materials into gadgets that can do some things on their own.

Liquid metal is already used in smart objects like circuits and wearable sensors—but not as a coating. Inspired by origami, a team of scientists led by Bo Yuan of Tsinghua University in China has figured out a way to formulate liquid metal and apply it with a stamp so it sticks to paper without an adhesive, which has never been possible before. In a study recently published in Cell Reports Physical Science, the scientists showed that paper coated in the metal can be crafted into origami shapes and re-fold itself. The metal coating also conducts heat and electricity. It’s like magic. Almost.

Because the particles in liquid metal tend to stay so close together, it is difficult to get it to adhere to any surface without something that acts as glue. But these adhesives usually have a negative effect on the metal’s properties, such as its conductivity. Yuan and his team wanted a liquid metal that could stick to paper without an adhesive. They used an alloy of bismuth, indium, and tin oxide (BiInSn) and tested how well it performed next to an indium/gallium alloy (eGaIn).

“We needed to ensure the adhesion of liquid metal to be uniform in large scale on different paper, and to maintain the stability of the coating,” Yuan explains. “To solve these problems, we changed pressure applied on the stamp as well as the rubbing speed used in the experiments and finally found the most suitable parameters, which finally achieved fast, large-scale, and stable adhesion.”

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