Technology buffs today come in all shapes and sizes, and varying degrees of enthusiasm. Wherever you may fall in that enthusiast spectrum, there is one thing everyone ought to be grateful for: electronic circuits. Practically every single electronic device we use today would not exist without electronic circuits; and for those who are in the “making” group, the creation of electric circuits is certainly one of the most fascinating and challenging of endeavors.

liquid metal printer

PCBs or printed circuit boards, are mainly used as bases, but the dream is to be able to create electronic circuits – print them – on other types of material such as flexible plastic, glass, or even paper. Can you imagine all the cool, especially wearable, gadgets that can be manufactured if circuits can be printed onto new materials?

That’s exactly what the “liquid metal printer” that Jing Liu and his partners from the Technical Institute of Physics and Chemistry in Beijing are all excited about. It’s not exactly 3D printing, but the implications are just as awesome.

As if the mere idea of a liquid metal printer is not cool enough, the technique is rather simple. It does not even require a totally new printer. An inkjet printer is all that’s necessary, although you would have to replace the regular ink with liquid metal. This setup can then be used to print electronic circuits onto all sorts of flexible materials such as paper, plastic, glass, rubber, cotton cloth – and even a leaf!

The trick is in the liquid metal, obviously. For the liquid metal printer to work, the “ink” has to be an alloy of gallium and indium. At room temperature, this alloy is liquid, which makes it perfect for printing. It then solidifies due to oxidation, as it is expelled from the inkjet printer.

Imagine circuits being printed on paper – magazines, leaflets, and books! If things proceed as the researchers hope, we might even get circuits on t-shirts. That would take geek t-shirts to a whole new level!

[Image via 123rf]