June 28, 2011 at 3:24 PM ET
Researchers have developed a silver-inked rollerball pen that writes electronic circuits on paper, wood, and other surfaces. The breakthrough leads a new class of flexible, low-cost and disposable electronics, according to the team.
The normal-looking pen's ink is a solution of silver. After writing, the ink dries to leave conducting pathways that maintain their integrity through multiple bends and folds in the paper, enabling devices with flexibility and conformability, according to a news release on the breakthrough.
The effort was led by Jennifer Lewis, a professor of materials science and engineering, and Jennifer Bernhard, a professor of computer and electrical engineering at the University of Illinois. The results were published in the journal Advanced Materials.
In previous work, metallic inks have been used with ink jet printers to fabricate electronic devices. The pen offers the flexibility to apply metallic ink directly on paper without the hassle and expense of buying and programming inkjet printers.
"Pen-based printing allows one to construct electronic devices on-the-fly," Lewis said in the news release.
The team so far has used the pen to put LED lighting on the roof of a house in a sketched copy of a painting by Jung Hee Kim called "Sae-Han-Do." The LED is powered by a five-volt battery connected to the edge of the painting.
The team has also demonstrated a flexible LED display on paper, conductive text, and three-dimensional radio antennas.
More on electronic printing:
John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).