The future of electronics is bendy

Scientists used the Canadian Light Source to discover new materials that could help make electronics stretchable.

By Victoria Schramm

Dr. Simon Rondeau-Gagne (right) and student Madison Mooney at work in the lab.

Bendable electronics could radically change our relationship with technology. Devices like high tech organs, real-time biosensor implants, and electronic visual assistance sound like science fiction, but according to researchers who used the Canadian Light Source (CLS) synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan, these futuristic electronics may be only a few years away.

“We are slowly bridging the gap between biological tissue and electronics,” said Dr. Simon Rondeau-Gagné, Assistant Professor in Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Windsor. He overseas a team of scientists who are working to help make these revolutionary electronics a reality.

Rondeau-Gagne (right) and Mooney working with a dye precursor and their electroactive polymers (in solution).

“When you think about the next generation of electronics, we’re going to need sensors to become formable to the human body and to better acquire the data we are looking for,” he said.

His team uses polymers and organic molecules that work really well with electronics but are also flexible. “You can try to create a conformable device with current technology, but if you stretch it and try to play around with the shape, your material will fail and the device won’t work.”

To try to make the material more stretchable, the team partnered with a company called PolyAnalytik in London, Ontario that had a unique kind of polyethylene, a common consumer plastic, that is easier to work with from a chemistry perspective.

“Using the HXMA beamline at the CLS, we found that this polyethylene additive is a plasticizer. It helps our materials to maintain their electronic properties while making them stretchable. Hopefully, it can be used to make electronics that will be flexible and comfortable to wear,” he added.

Now that they have a method for adding flexibility, the scientists will focus on developing these materials for future electronic devices that will be better able to help people. “All of our efforts are going there, to get the technology up and running in the next couple of years.”

“We are kind of toolbox providers. Doctors can tell us what they need, we provide materials, and we can design the devices needed in the future,” he said. “You could monitor your heart beat, sweat levels, temperature or any kind of data that you want and measure it in real time. These monitors could be wearable or even implants within the body.” Other applications could include stretchable solar cells, robust display screens, and wearable cell phones.

He was eager to point out that this research is a team effort. Their partners at PolyAnalytik and the University of Southern Mississippi contributed needed expertise in business applications and material properties. “The support from the CLS technical staff is just tremendous,” he added. “The training environment and support is just excellent.”

“It’s not my work; it’s my students’ work,” he said. “They are passionate and have been putting in all of the effort in, making the characterizations, making the materials, and connecting the companies. All of this is possible because of our incredible team.”

“Every progress we make on the materials side, is another step towards getting these new electronics that we need,” he said.

Selivanova, Mariia, Song Zhang, Blandine Billet, Aleena Malik, Nathaniel Prine, Eric Landry, Xiaodan Gu, Peng Xiang, and Simon Rondeau-Gagné. "Branched Polyethylene as a Plasticizing Additive to Modulate the Mechanical Properties of π-Conjugated Polymers." Macromolecules 52, no. 20 (2019): 7870-7877.


For more information, contact:

Victoria Schramm
Communications Coordinator
Canadian Light Source