Jul 12, 2013

    New liquid metal could spawn flexible gadgets

    A GROUP of researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a liquid-metal material that could be used in 3-D printers and lead to flexible gadgets.

    The technology is outlined in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials, which describes the flexible metal as "stretchable" and explains that many tiny dots of this material could be placed together to create larger, bendable sheets of metal.

    The metal, an alloy of gallium and indium, is liquid at room temperature. But when it is exposed to air, the alloy can create a thin skin around its outer layer, like the way air bubbles look when floating on top of water.

    And, as if flexible metal doesn't sound futuristic enough, the paper also says that this metal can be "self-healing", similar to animals that can regenerate limbs that get sliced off.

    "The fact that they are liquid means you could surround them with another material like rubber to make metallic structures that you can stretch and deform," Dr Michael Dickey, an assistant professor of engineering at North Carolina State University, told New Scientist in an interview.

    He added that if a syringe replaced the printing head in a 3-D printer, it could then print metal.

    There is at least one caveat, though. The material's cost, he said, is roughly 100 times that of 3-D-printing plastic.