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New technology can transform paper into an electronic device

Experts at Purdue University have developed a groundbreaking method to create paper-based electronics that can power themselves. The technology uses a simple printing process to transform any piece of plain paper or cardboard into an interactive electronic device, such as a keyboard or a music player interface.

In the journal Nano Energy, the study authors explained that “the development of paper-based electronics is subject to significant challenges, such as rapid degradation with moisture, battery dependence, and limited compatibility with existing mass production technologies.” 

However, the researchers are overcoming these challenges with paper-based electronics that are completely wireless and insensitive to moisture, liquid stains, and dust. 

The team said their self-powered paper-based electronics are lightweight, flexible and stable upon folding. The devices are also remarkably inexpensive to print, with a cost of less than $0.25 per unit. 

Study co-author Ramses Martinez is an assistant professor in Purdue’s School of Industrial Engineering and in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering. 

“This is the first time a self-powered paper-based electronic device is demonstrated,” said Professor Martinez. “We developed a method to render paper repellent to water, oil and dust by coating it with highly fluorinated molecules. This omniphobic coating allows us to print multiple layers of circuits onto paper without getting the ink to smear from one layer to the next one.”

According to Professor Martinez, this innovation facilitates the fabrication of vertical pressure sensors that do not require any external battery, since they harvest the energy from their contact with the user.

The new technology is compatible with conventional large-scale printing processes, which means it could easily be used to convert cardboard or paper into smart packaging that humans can interact with. 

“I envision this technology to facilitate the user interaction with food packaging, to verify if the food is safe to be consumed, or enabling users to sign the package that arrives at home by dragging their finger over the box to properly identify themselves as the owner of the package,” said Professor Martinez. 

“Additionally, our group demonstrated that simple paper sheets from a notebook can be transformed into music player interfaces for users to choose songs, play them and change their volume.”

The research is published in the journal Nano Energy.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer


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