Assistant Professor Baoxing Xu has teamed with electronics engineers at Purdue to create “electronic stickers,” where electronic circuits are “printed” onto peelable thin film that can be any size or shape. By applying a sticker, any object will be able to sense its environment or be controlled. In addition, the UVA team has developed a specialized nanomanufacturing technique that is not only environmentally friendly and economical, but allows the stickers to be mass-produced.

The new manufacturing method relies on chemomechanics, a liquid-assisted transfer printing technique. Instead of printing one sticker per sheet, the new process allows manufacturers to print an almost unlimited number of circuit board stickers using the same sheet, or “wafer” in mechanical engineering lingo. This method also accounts for the precision necessary for repetitive printing, preventing a decline in quality during production.

“This research conquers the major bottleneck of current transfer printing technique and opens up a new route of transfer printing, with a future possibility of being integrated with other manufacturing techniques, such as roll-to-roll technique, for massive applications of close relevance to nanoelectronics,” Xu said.

With the barrier to production removed, the futuristic technology of tomorrow may be right around the corner. These high-tech stickers, which can easily comprise one or more electronic components, will become commonplace. The stickers will also have the potential to achieve wireless technology capabilities, enabling them to connect to wireless networks, devices, and the Internet of Things for remote monitoring, data transmission and control. 

This collaborative work at UVa was funded by UVa and NSF-CMMI-MOMS # 1728149 and is recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS): Wafer-recyclable, environment-friendly transfer printing for large-scale thin-film nanoelectronics.