'Transformative electronics systems' to broaden wearable applications

'Transformative electronics systems' to broaden wearable applications
Transformative electronics in soft mode, which becomes wearable for outdoor applications. Credit: KAIST

Imagine a handheld electronic gadget that can soften and deform when attached to our skin. This will be the future of electronics we all dreamed of. A research team at KAIST says their new platform called 'Transformative Electronics Systems' will open a new class of electronics, allowing reconfigurable electronic interfaces to be optimized for a variety of applications.

A team working under Professor Jae-Woong Jeong from the School of Electrical Engineering at KAIST has invented a multifunctional electronic platform that can mechanically transform its shape, flexibility, and stretchability. This platform, which was reported in Science Advances, allows users to seamlessly and precisely tune its stiffness and shape.

"This new class of electronics will not only offer robust, convenient interfaces for use in both tabletop and handheld setups, but also allow seamless integration with the skin when applied onto our bodies," said Professor Jeong.

The transformative electronics consist of a special gallium metal structure, hermetically encapsulated and sealed within a soft silicone material, combined with electronics that are designed to be flexible and stretchable. The mechanical transformation of the electronic systems is specifically triggered by temperature change events controlled by the user.

"Gallium is an interesting key material. It is biocompatible, has high rigidity in solid form, and melts at a temperature comparable to the skin's temperature," said lead author Sang-Hyuk Byun, a researcher at KAIST.

  • 'Transformative electronics systems' to broaden wearable applications
    Transformative electronics adaptable to skin deformation. Credit: Jeong Research Group, KAIST
  • 'Transformative electronics systems' to broaden wearable applications
    Infographic that shows the concept of transformative electronics. Credit: Jeong Research Group, KAIST

Once the transformative electronic platform comes in contact with a , the gallium metal encapsulated inside the silicone changes to a liquid state and softens the whole electronic structure, making it stretchable, flexible, and wearable. The metal then solidifies again once the structure is peeled off the skin, making the electronic circuits stiff and stable. When flexible were integrated into these transformative platforms, it gave them the ability to become either flexible and stretchable or rigid.

"This technology could not have been achieved without interdisciplinary efforts," said co-lead author Joo Yong Sim, who is a researcher with ETRI. "We worked together with electrical, mechanical, and biomedical engineers, as well as material scientists and neuroscientists to make this breakthrough."

Transformative electronics converting between a rigid tabletop clock and a wearable sensor. Credit: Jeong Research Group, KAIST

This universal electronics allowed researchers to demonstrate applications that were highly adaptable and customizable, such as multi-purpose personal electronics with variable stiffness and stretchability, a pressure sensor with tuneable bandwidth and sensitivity, and a neural probe that softens upon implantation into brain tissue.

Transformative pressure sensor with variable deformability. Credit: Jeong Research Group, KAIST

Applicable for both traditional and emerging electronics technologies, this breakthrough can potentially reshape the consumer electronics industry, especially in the biomedical and robotic domains. The researchers believe that with further development, this novel electronics technology can significantly impact the way we use electronics in our daily life.

Transformative pressure sensor: Application demonstration in rigid and soft modes. Credit: Jeong Research Group, KAIST
Transformative neural probe penetrating a mouse brain in rigid mode. Credit: Jeong Research Group, KAIST

Explore further

Reconfigurable electronics show promise for wearable, implantable devices

More information: DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay0418 S.-H. Byun el al., "Mechanically transformative electronics, sensors, and implantable devices," Science Advances (2019). advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/11/eaay0418
Journal information: Science Advances

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