A new ink developed by researchers at the University
of Illinois allows them to write their own silver linings.
The ink, composed of silver nanoparticles, can be used in electronic and optoelectronic
applications to create flexible, stretchable and spanning microelectrodes that
carry signals from one circuit element to another. The printed microelectrodes
can withstand repeated bending and stretching with minimal change in their electrical
In a paper to be published Feb. 12, by Science Express, the online version
of the journal Science, Jennifer Lewis, the Thurnauer Professor of Materials
Science and Engineering and director of the university's Frederick Seitz Materials
Research Laboratory, and her collaborators demonstrate patterned silver microelectrodes
by omnidirectional printing of concentrated nanoparticle inks with minimum widths
of about 2 microns on semiconductor, plastic and glass substrates.
"Unlike inkjet or screen printing, our approach enables the microelectrodes
to be printed out-of-plane, allowing them to directly cross pre-existing patterned
features through the formation of spanning arches," Lewis said. "Typically,
insulating layers or bypass electrode arrays are required in conventional layouts."
To produce printed features, the researchers first prepare a highly concentrated
silver nanoparticle ink. The ink is then extruded through a tapered cylindrical
nozzle attached to a three-axis micropositioning stage, which is controlled
by computer-aided design software.
When printed, the silver nanoparticles are not yet bonded together. The bonding
process occurs when the printed structure is heated to 150 degrees Celsius or
higher. During thermal annealing, the nanoparticles fuse into an interconnected
structure. Because of the modest processing temperatures required, the printed
features are compatible with flexible, organic substrates.
To demonstrate the versatility of the printing process, the researchers patterned
both planar and out-of-plane silver microelectrodes; produced spanning interconnects
for solar microcell and light-emitting-diode arrays; and bonded silver wires
to fragile, three-dimensional devices.
"Unlike conventional techniques, our approach allows fine silver wires
to be bonded to delicate devices using minimal contact pressure," said
postdoctoral researcher Bok Yeop Ahn, the lead author of the paper.
"Our approach is capable of creating highly integrated systems from diverse
classes of electronic materials on a broad range of substrates," said graduate
student Eric Duoss, a co-author of the paper. "Omnidirectional printing
overcomes some of the design constraints that have limited the potential of
In addition to Lewis, Ahn and Duoss, the paper's co-authors include chemistry
professor Ralph Nuzzo and materials science and engineering professor John Rogers,
as well as members of their research groups.
The work was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.