Conductive Ink Pen Might Be Mightier Than the Soldering Iron

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An example of conductive ink. [Photo: Bok Yeop Ahn, University of Illinois]
I was really excited back in the day when I discovered that Sharpie made a metallic silver marker. You could draw on yourself and look like a cyborg! Or you could draw on your binder covers so they look like futuristic computers! Of course, I knew absolutely nothing about circuitry, but now that I know a little more, a notebook cover doodle might well be able to become something real--with the help of a silver-dispensing conductive ink pen designed by a team from the University of Illinois.

Conductive printer ink has been used since 2007 to speed up circuit board production--however, devoting a whole inkjet printer and upkeep to circuitry could easily get quite expensive. In comparison, a hand-held pen saves on both money and space. The “ink”, in this case a solution of silver, dries to leave behind paper-mounted wires that can bend and fold without any additional programming.

That flexibility, both physically and conceptually, opens up a wide range of applications in prototyping, design, fashion, and disposable electronics. The ability to build electronics on the fly, says team leader and materials science professor Jennifer Lewis, “is an important step toward enabling desktop manufacturing (or personal fabrication) using very low cost, ubiquitous printing tools.”

The team plans to experiment with inks carrying different conductive materials, in hopes of expanding the available palette--of both colors and properties, I imagine.

My main question is, will it work on my arm?

[U of I News Bureau via New Scientist]

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