Bendable, conductive polymer film developed for consumer electronics has health-monitoring potential

Bendable, conductive polymer; Purdue

A glass-like, conductive polymer under development at Purdue University that could make smartphones and other electronics more bendable also has designs on healthcare applications.

The polymer film, which is said to have the look and feel of glass, can be sustainably produced on a large scale because it comes from “earth-abundant materials,” writes Chris Adam in a press release published on the Purdue University website. The material reportedly is also cost-effective compared with currently used polymers in electronics that rely on expensive chemistry and chemical doping to achieve high conductivity.

Purdue’s polymer is made from long chains that contain radical groups. “The radical polymer has a fundamentally different chemistry and mechanism for creating conductive plastics,” explains Brett Savoie, Assistant Professor, Davidson School of Engineering at Purdue University, in a video featuring the technology. “We are able to coat the film, which stays transparent at relatively large thicknesses, and make uniform films without defects,” adds Bryan Boudouris, the Robert and Sally Weist Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, who led the research team. “Now, you have something you can sell, especially for high-end electronics,” says Boudouris. “We have made a giant leap in polymer production by better matching the mechanical properties of organic materials used to create them and helping to avoid catastrophic failures with electronic display screens.”

Purdue’s radical polymer is not quite as conductive as indium tin oxide, which is the current state of the art in displays, says Savoie, but it is much less expensive. “And it is competitive with other organic plastics and is orders of magnitude better than the next-best radical polymer,” he adds.

The new polymer is also the central platform for research at the Purdue-based Materials Innovation for Bioelectronics from intrinsically stretchable Organics (Mi-Bio) center. Researchers there are using the polymer film to create custom sensors that could non-invasively monitor glucose levels, heart rates and other biomedical metrics.

The film could be modified, using specific molecules or ions, to target and selectively interact with various biological components inside the body, notes the press release. It could be worn as a nearly invisible patch on the skin.

Researchers are working with the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization to patent the technology, and they are looking for partners to continue developing it.

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