Swiss scientists have created a new material that could speed the development of stretchy, wearable electronic devices.
The researchers, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, have come up with a material that mimicks the way tendons connect to bones.
The stretchable electronics industry is in its infancy but devices that are able to flex without breaking could revolutionise devices from smartphones and solar cells to medical implants. But while circuits and wiring are fine on rigid surfaces like those in a tablet computer, they break easily when combined with materials that stretch.
"You have two materials with very different mechanical properties," Andre Studart, one of the researchers said. "The challenge is to bridge these different properties."
The team has come up with a stretchy material made from polyurethane that contains "islands" stiff enough to house and protect delicate circuits.
While the soft part can stretch by 350 per cent, the stiff regions created by impregnating the material with tiny platelets of aluminium oxide and a synthetic clay called laponite, hardly deform and can protect the electronics.
The material, presented in research published in the journal Nature Communications, is made from bonded layers and because the concentration of the platelets is gradually increased, the junction between the stretchy and stiff parts is also durable.
"There are many biological materials that have these properties as well, like the way tendons link muscle to bone," said Studart. "But there are not so many examples in synthetic materials."
The researchers say their technique could also be used to build synthetic cartilage or false teeth with better matches to their natural counterparts.