A vial of graphene ink.
Courtesy the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters A vial of graphene ink.

In an era of increased use of interactive touchscreen devices, consumers have grown accustomed to working with flat, rigid glass-based displays. A research effort based at Northwestern University aims to change this format, however, with a bendable display that behaves similarly to printed paper.

Materials science professor Mark Hersam and his team of researchers at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science have developed a process to print flexible layers of graphene that are highly conductive. In fact, the novel ink is 250 times more conductive than previous graphene-based technologies—a major breakthrough considering that carbon-based materials such as graphene tend to exfoliate, requiring oxidizing solutions or solvents that decrease conductivity.

The new approach utilizes ethanol and ethyl cellulose to create a high-quality powder of graphene flakes used to create the ink. Based on the success of their research, the scientists anticipate the production of low-cost, high-resolution electronic newspapers or tablets that can be rolled up and stashed in a pocket.

“Graphene has a unique combination of properties that is ideal for next-generation electronics, including high electrical conductivity, mechanical flexibility, and chemical stability,” said professor Hersam in a university press release. “By formulating an inkjet-printable ink based on graphene, we now have an inexpensive and scalable path for exploiting these properties in real-world technologies.”

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.