Stretchable gold conductors bring bling to elastic electronics

Researchers work with gold nanoparticles to build a stretchy, conductive material that could go into medical devices and wearable technology.

Stretchable gold conductor
This is some practical bling. Joseph Xu

The precious metal gold can be used for purposes of good (like flexible brain implants) rather than evil (like a $9.4 million iPhone 4S ). Researchers at the University of Michigan have created a stretchy conductive material out of gold nanoparticles and polyurethane that holds promise for use in flexible electronic devices.

Once embedded in polyurethane, the spherical gold nanoparticles can conduct electricity, even when the material is stretched out to twice its original length.

The nanoparticles align into a chain form when stretched. "As we stretch, they rearrange themselves to maintain the conductivity, and this is the reason why we got the amazing combination of stretchability and electrical conductivity," said engineering professor Nicholas Kotov. He likens the material to elastic metal.

The study has been published in the journal Nature under the title "Stretchable Nanoparticle Conductors with Self-Organized Conductive Pathways."

The researchers see a future for the material in implantable medical devices, especially for brain implants. Other potential applications include flexible screens, wearable technology, and improving lithium-ion batteries. That doesn't even get into the more mundane possibilities of using the material to unnecessarily bling up iPhones.

About the author

Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET's Crave blog. When not wallowing in weird gadgets and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.

 

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