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Groundbreaking 3D Printed Material Revolutionizes Soft Robotics and Biomedical Devices

Groundbreaking 3D Printed Material Revolutionizes Soft Robotics and Biomedical Devices

Researchers at Penn State have developed a new 3D-printed material designed to advance soft robotics, skin-integrated electronics, and biomedical devices. The material is soft, flexible, and self-assembles, overcoming many of the limitations of previous manufacturing methods, such as lower conductivity and device failure. The challenge of developing flexible conductors with high conductivity has been ongoing for nearly a decade, according to Tao Zhou, an assistant professor at Penn State. While liquid metal-based conductors offered a solution, they required secondary activation methods such as stretching or laser activation, which complicated manufacturing and posed a risk of device failure.

Zhou explained that their method eliminates the need for secondary activation to achieve conductivity. The innovative approach combines liquid metal, a conductive polymer blend called PEDOT:PSS, and hydrophilic polyurethane. When printed and heated, liquid metal particles in the bottom layer of the material self-assemble into a conductive track, while the top layer oxidizes in an oxygen-rich environment to form an insulated surface. This structure allows efficient data transmission to sensors, such as those used for muscle activity recording and tension sensing, while preventing signal leakage that can compromise data accuracy.

“This material innovation enables self-assembly, resulting in high conductivity without secondary activation,” Zhou added. The ability to 3D print this material would also simplify the production of wearable devices. The research team is exploring a variety of potential applications, with a focus on assistive technology for individuals with disabilities.

The research, supported by the National Taipei University of Technology-Penn State Collaboration Seed Grant Program, also included contributions from doctoral students Salahuddin Ahmed, Marzia Momin, Jiashu Ren, and Hyunjin Lee.