A team based within the North Carolina State University have used two metals – gallium and indium – that are liquid at room temperature but form a “skin” when exposed to oxygen to form micro-circuits and wearable electronics of the future.
The technique is detailed in the journal Advanced Materials.
“The metal forms a very thin layer of oxide and because of it, you can actually shape it into interesting shapes that would not be possible with normal liquids like water,” said the lead author, Michael Dickey.
He explained that the printer used a syringe to stack the droplets on top of one another.
The droplets retained their shape without merging into a single big droplet, which allowed the scientists to then shape the metal.
“It’s an additive manufacturing technique, so you’re basically directly printing the material in 3D space,” Dr Dickey said.
“The resulting structures are soft, and if you embed them in, say, rubber, for example, you can create structures that are deformable and stretchable.”