Stretchy 'bucky-gel' promises touchscreen video-stockings

Interactive nano-Spandex iPants for all


Japanese boffins have developed a material which they believe could be used to make stretchy, highly flexible electronic circuitry. It goes almost without saying that their elasto-conductor miracle sheet is based on fashionable carbon nanotubes.

Science Magazine brings us the scoop on the rubbery circuitboard breakthrough. According to the report, one makes the stretchy conductor sheet by first mixing up nanotubes with ionic liquid to produce "bucky gel*", and then mixing this with polymer before spreading it out flat and drying it. Once dry, the flexibility is increased by making lots of tiny holes in the resulting sheet.

The end result, seemingly, is a flexible, elastic, porous material "like a woman's nylon stocking". The designers, led by Tokyo Uni engineering brainbox Takao Someya, say it is four times as stretchy as anything conductive, and a hundred times as conductive as anything stretchy. Someya and his colleague Tsuyoshi Sekitani have previously collaborated on similarly flexy pressure sensors.

The boffins reckon that bucky-gel elasto circuitry would be a tip-top replacement for today's rigid boards in many applications. It might be combined with flexible display and pressure-sensor tech to produce roll-up computers, TVs and so forth. Such equipment could be incorporated into clothing, for instance, producing truly wearable computing. Given that Reuters quotes Sekitani as saying that the kit would be excellent for use on "curved surfaces and movable parts", and the stuff already resembles stockings, it seems that the day of the long-sought interactive touchscreen tights - or at any rate, video stretchpants - may be at hand.

Marvellous what they can do nowadays, etc. ®

Bootnote

*As in Buckminster Fuller, the man behind the geodesic dome climbing frames once popular in playgrounds. Spherical carbon molecules are named "buckyballs", as they are thought to have the same kind of structure, and the whole class of mad molecules are called fullerenes, including the increasingly trendy nano-tubular ones.

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