CHICAGO, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Researchers have identified a mechanism that triggers shape-memory phenomena in organic crystals used in plastic electronics.
The study has been published in the journal Nature Communications.
The discovery is accidental. Researchers created large organic crystals, looked at the single crystals under a microscope and found that the transformation process is dramatically different from what they expected.
"We saw concerted movement of a whole layer of molecules sweeping through the crystal that seem to drive the shape-memory effect, something that is rarely observed in organic crystals and is therefore largely unexplored," said Hyunjoong Chung, a University of Illinois (UI) graduate student and co-author of the study.
The unexpected observation led the researchers to explore the merger between shape-memory materials science and the field of organic electronics.
"Today's electronics are dependent on transistors to switch on and off, which is a very energy-intensive process," said Ying Diao, UI professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering and co-author of the study.
"If we can use the shape-memory effect in plastic semiconductors to modulate electronic properties in a cooperative manner, it would require very low energy input, potentially contributing to advancements in low-power and more efficient electronics."
Researchers are currently using heat to demonstrate the shape-memory effect, and are experimenting with light waves, electrical fields and mechanical force for future demonstrations.
Devices like the expandable stents that open and unblock clogged human blood vessels use shape-memory technology. Heat, light and electrical signals, or mechanic forces pass information through the devices telling them to expand, contract, bend and morph back into their original form, and can do so repeatedly. This effect works well with metals, but remains unsure in synthetic organic materials because of the complexity of the molecules used to create them.
Now the new generation of economical printable plastic electronics is set to benefit from this phenomenon.