Top boffins in Illinois have invented a truly joyous piece of kit: a pen full of silver ink which can be used to draw functioning electronic circuitry on paper, wood (including – of course – breadboards) and other suitable surfaces.
"Pen-based printing allows one to construct electronic devices 'on-the-fly'," says Jennifer Lewis, one of the engineering profs who came up with the new pen at Illinois uni. "This is an important step toward enabling desktop manufacturing (or personal fabrication) using very low cost, ubiquitous printing tools."
Outwardly a normal rollerball, the pen is filled with a solution of silver which dries after drawing to leave a functioning electronic pathway. Better still, the inky circuit path is flexible, allowing the surface it is drawn on to be deformed or folded without affecting performance. A little origami added to one's drafting skills allows creation of 3D or multi-level devices.
"The key advantage of the pen is that the costly printers and printheads typically required for inkjet or other printing approaches are replaced with an inexpensive, hand-held writing tool," argues Lewis, who developed it alongside fellow Illinois prof Jennifer Bernhard and other colleagues.
The nifty circuit-pen enables "new possibilities in art, disposable electronics and folded three-dimensional devices," according to the two Jennifers, who now intend to develop other inks allowing freehand circuit artists to make use of different materials.
Full boffinry detail on the splendid pen can be read here in the journal Advanced Materials. ®