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Professor Yueh-Lin Loo  (Source: Princeton)

The breakthrough has yielded a plastic transistor, printed onto a flexible sheet.  (Source: Princeton)
Breakthrough is promising to electronics, solar, and medical industries

Conductors of electricity on solar panels ideally must be transparent and highly conductive.  One solution currently used is indium tin oxide (ITO); however, ITO is very expensive.  Plastic, on the other hand, is cheap, transparent and flexible; however, it does not conduct well.  Princeton University researchers believe that they have discovered how to fix that problem.

The researchers at Princeton theorized that the molded polymer was fixed in a rigid structure that blocked the natural conductivity of its free form in solution.  They used an acid treatment to alter the polymer, restoring much of its conductivity.

The result was a transistor with polymer electrodes, printed on a surface.  The manufacturing process used was similar to how an inkjet printer works.  That alone, is a big deal says associate professor of chemical engineering Yueh-Lin Loo, who led the research.  She states, "Being able to essentially paint on electronics is a big deal.  You could distribute the plastics in cartridges the way printer ink is sold, and you wouldn’t need exotic machines to print the patterns."

The material could also cut costs of deploying solar.  States Yueh-Lin, "The cost of indium tin oxide is skyrocketing.  To bring down the costs of plastic solar cells, we need to find a replacement for ITO. Our conducting plastics allow sunlight to pass through them, making them a viable alternative."

The work also has other practical applications.  The acid treatment typically yields a color change.  Ear infections in children tend to produce Nitric Oxide, which turns plastics from yellow to green.  The team proposed a prototype device to check for these hard-to-detect infections by monitoring changes in a plastic.  That could help battle reoccurring childhood ear infections, a major cause of hearing loss.

The new work is published in the March 8 edition of the prestigious journal 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It was funded by the National Science Foundation and other private foundations.  Other members of Yueh-Lin's team working on the project included, Joung Eun Yoo, who received her doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of Texas-Austin in 2009 with Loo as her adviser; Kimberly Baldwin, a high school student who spent a summer in Loo's lab; Jacob Tarver, a Princeton chemical engineering graduate student; Enrique Gomez of Pennsylvania State University; Kwang Seok Lee and Yangming Sun of the University of Texas-Austin; Andres Garcia and Thuc-Quyen Nguyen of the University of California-Santa Barbara; and Hong Meng of DuPont Central Research and Development.

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smaller circuits flexible
By knowom on 4/5/2010 4:11:34 PM , Rating: 2
What I'd like to see is motherboards and such made similar to how way keyboards are made using a stacked approach like memory, hard drives, and dvd's are made maybe even with the circuitry having very thin flat heat pipe type technology built into it as well to disperse heat to different areas.

RE: smaller circuits flexible
By samthefish on 4/5/2010 4:20:51 PM , Rating: 4
I'd like to be able to print a new motherboard!

RE: smaller circuits flexible
By Reclaimer77 on 4/5/2010 6:55:45 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah except motherboards have to be strong enough to stand on end and have 90 ounce heatsink coolers mounted to them and massive video cards etc etc.

RE: smaller circuits flexible
By MadMan007 on 4/6/2010 2:13:18 AM , Rating: 2
Just nail it to a piece of wood.

RE: smaller circuits flexible
By xsilver on 4/7/2010 12:32:51 AM , Rating: 1
or nail it to your cat = mobile computing!

RE: smaller circuits flexible
By MadMan007 on 4/6/2010 2:22:00 AM , Rating: 4
Well, there goes the argument about pirating versus stealing because 'you can't download hardware.'

Excellent research.
By Earthmonger on 4/5/2010 12:42:52 PM , Rating: 1
The results of this research may have some rather profound and far-reaching effects. The future is coming. Machines shall inherit the earth.

RE: Excellent research.
By MrBlastman on 4/5/10, Rating: 0
RE: Excellent research.
By Mitch101 on 4/5/2010 3:08:43 PM , Rating: 4
The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?” Plastic…asshole - George Carlin.

RE: Excellent research.
By BruceLeet on 4/5/2010 7:53:08 PM , Rating: 1
By foolsgambit11 on 4/5/2010 9:53:41 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder what the current and theoretical energy densities would be for a process like this for solar collection. As it is, for many solar applications, finding a place to put enough panels to meet energy demands is a significant issue. Still, a little extra power at almost no cost isn't something I'd complain about, even if it doesn't meet a significant portion of my needs.

RE: Practicality
By tbhuang2 on 4/5/2010 10:23:24 PM , Rating: 2
Materials science student here. I think you're a bit confused. ITO simply serves as a conductive transparent layer as part of electronic applications such as solar cells as well as displays on computer monitors and TVs. It will not give any extra power conversion efficiency to any system it is applied to; it simply makes the unit cheaper than using indium tin oxide (ITO).

By TerranMagistrate on 4/5/2010 12:57:36 PM , Rating: 2
It's really good that this sort of economical manufacturing technology is being discovered.

The world will be needing cheaper products, much cheaper, looking at current trends.

Yueh-Lin Loo
By obiwankenobi on 4/6/2010 8:03:33 AM , Rating: 2
looks like Yueh-Lin Loo is of chinese descent. it will be interesting to hear in one of these days the chinese govt will "request" to do some research for them.

By clockworkjpm on 4/6/2010 8:35:08 AM , Rating: 2
I wonder if they have measured the effects of UV light on the conducting polymers. It seems to me that could be a major concern with this approach if it is truly intended to compete with indium tin oxide in solar panels.

By merryjohnson on 4/28/2010 1:06:51 PM , Rating: 2
What Do you think about Eco Toner, will they be helpful.
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