Paint, which is one of the oldest known material technologies, has come a long way in recent years. New paints can do things like harness solar energy, emit light, and report on structural damage. Now, thanks to University of Michigan scientists, paint can even compute.
The idea of paintable electronics has been a powerful but elusive concept. The main challenge has been the alignment of molecules to convey electronic signals along continuous pathways. Despite this hurdle, the Michigan engineers were able to produce a "smart" liquid polymer that acts as a paintable electronic plastic. Once coated on a substrate, molecules begin to align with each other in the direction of the brush stroke—thus creating a semiconducting thin-layer film.
"It's a big breakthrough," said engineering professor Jinsang Kim in a university press release. "We established a complete molecular design principle of semiconducting polymers with directed alignment capability."