A team of researchers from Faculdade de Ciências e Tecnologia da Universidade de Coimbra (FCTUC) has developed a new technique to produce microchip integrated stretchable circuits, in a low cost and scalable way. The new technology opens door to build biostickers to monitor patient’s health, and create electronic textile for smart garments for athlete performance monitoring, or for fashion.
This technique, which has just been published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Communications, was developed under CMU Portugal Large Scale project WoW at Instituto de Sistemas e Robótica (ISR) da Universidade de Coimbra. Wow – Wireless biOmonitoring stickers and smart bed architecture: toWards Untethered Patients – is led by the Portuguese company GLINTT in partnership with Centro Hospitalar e Universitário de Coimbra (CHUC) and the Mechanical Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon University.
According to Mahmoud Tavakoli, the project Lead researcher and Director of the Soft and Printed Microelectronic Lab at ISR Coimbra, integrating microchips into the printed circuits in an efficient and cost-effective way, is the primary and most important challenge in the field of soft and printed electronics. Tavakoli states that “ In fact we developed a new soldering technique, that works for elastomeric circuits. Pol-Gel, is a simple technique for self-soldering, self-encapsulation, and self-healing, that allows low-cost, scalable, and rapid fabrication of hybrid microchip-integrated ultra-stretchable circuits. After digitally printing the circuit and placing the microchips, we expose the circuits to a solvent vapor that allows the integration of this solid-state microchips into soft-matter and stretchable printed electronics. We addressed a problem, that is central for scalable fabrication, and commercialization of various products. We have successfully found a way to allow the rapid integration of microchips in ultra-stretchable hybrid circuits”
This solution is a major step to produce these circuits in a low cost and efficient way and will allow many applications developed by different research groups, to come out of the lab and pave a step towards commercialization as the process eliminates many fabrication steps. These printed circuits have already proven to be successful when applied in wearable biomonitoring and biostickers for health applications helping to monitor patients’ heart rate, muscular activities, body temperature, brain activity, or even emotions.
Equally, the textile industry can benefit from this since it will be possible to produce smart textiles with integrated microchips at a high scale. According to Mahmoud Tavakoli “we will now be able to integrate electronics into the next generation of smart garments, whether it is to monitor athlete’s performance or to map kinematics of an actress, or merely for the next generation of modern fashion, in which textile can be used as a communication tool. When it comes to the existing production lines for flexible electronics, we expect some of them will replace their current soldering technique with this novel technique”
This technology is already patented by Universidade de Coimbra and Carnegie Mellon University. Along with the technology transfer office of the University of Coimbra, UC Business, the team is now looking for commercial partners to commercialize the solution in different fields of application.
Paper in Nature Communications: “Reversible polymer-gel transition for ultra-stretchable chip-integrated circuits through self-soldering and self-coating and self-healing” I August 2021 I Pedro Alhais Lopes, Bruno C. Santos, Anibal T. de Almeida & Mahmoud Tavakoli
Press Release (in Portuguese)
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