Pen writes flexible electronics with silver ink

Printed electronics will be in everything from photovoltaics to transistors to displays to batteries to antennas to sensors. Scientists have a pen that can write circuits directly onto a surface.

Scientists figured out how to use a rollerball pen to write a circuit directly onto paper.

The pen writes electronic circuits using conductive silver ink. This metallic-based pen could literally change the way flexible electronics are fabricated and possibly bring the cost down.

To demonstrate the versatility of the technique, scientists at the University of Illinois took a Chinese painting called Sae-Han-Do, drew on wiring connecting the LED to a battery and watched it light up.

“Pen-based printing allows one to construct electronic devices ‘on-the-fly,’ ” UI's professor Jennifer Lewis said in a statement. “This is an important step toward enabling desktop manufacturing (or personal fabrication) using very low cost, ubiquitous printing tools.”

It works like this: The ink is conductive. When the silver lines dry, the ink remains intact when the surface is folded - making it durable for flexible electronics. Previously, metallic inks have been used in inkjet printers. But now, pens offer an on-the go alternative.

Scientists think it's possible to eventually replace silver ink with other types such as oxide, semiconductor or carbon building blocks.

It's ironic. In the future, we might fabricate electronic circuits the old fashion way - with pen and paper.

Other scientists have been successful in creating flexible electronics for applications such as disposable radio frequency identification tags and cellulose-based batteries. The idea of picking up a pen and writing the circuits onto paper is, well, priceless.

Silver pen has the write stuff for flexible electronics [University of Illinois]

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