High thermal conductivity in soft elastomers with elongated liquid metal inclusions.
ABSTRACT: Soft dielectric materials typically exhibit poor heat transfer properties due to the dynamics of phonon transport, which constrain thermal conductivity (k) to decrease monotonically with decreasing elastic modulus (E). This thermal-mechanical trade-off is limiting for wearable computing, soft robotics, and other emerging applications that require materials with both high thermal conductivity and low mechanical stiffness. Here, we overcome this constraint with an electrically insulating composite that exhibits an unprecedented combination of metal-like thermal conductivity, an elastic compliance similar to soft biological tissue (Young's modulus < 100 kPa), and the capability to undergo extreme deformations (>600% strain). By incorporating liquid metal (LM) microdroplets into a soft elastomer, we achieve a ?25× increase in thermal conductivity (4.7 ± 0.2 W?m-1?K-1) over the base polymer (0.20 ± 0.01 W?m-1·K-1) under stress-free conditions and a ?50× increase (9.8 ± 0.8 W?m-1·K-1) when strained. This exceptional combination of thermal and mechanical properties is enabled by a unique thermal-mechanical coupling that exploits the deformability of the LM inclusions to create thermally conductive pathways in situ. Moreover, these materials offer possibilities for passive heat exchange in stretchable electronics and bioinspired robotics, which we demonstrate through the rapid heat dissipation of an elastomer-mounted extreme high-power LED lamp and a swimming soft robot.
Project description:Stretchable electronics and soft robotics have shown unsurpassed features, inheriting remarkable functions from stretchable and soft materials. Electrically conductive and mechanically stretchable materials based on composites have been widely studied for stretchable electronics as electrical conductors using various combinations of materials. However, thermally tunable and stretchable materials, which have high potential in soft and stretchable thermal devices as interface or packaging materials, have not been sufficiently studied. Here, a mechanically stretchable and electrically insulating thermal elastomer composite is demonstrated, which can be easily processed for device fabrication. A liquid alloy is embedded as liquid droplet fillers in an elastomer matrix to achieve softness and stretchability. This new elastomer composite is expected useful to enhance thermal response or efficiency of soft and stretchable thermal devices or systems. The thermal elastomer composites demonstrate advantages such as thermal interface and packaging layers with thermal shrink films in transient and steady-state cases and a stretchable temperature sensor.
Project description:Natural soft tissue achieves a rich variety of functionality through a hierarchy of molecular, microscale, and mesoscale structures and ordering. Inspired by such architectures, we introduce a soft, multifunctional composite capable of a unique combination of sensing, mechanically robust electronic connectivity, and active shape morphing. The material is composed of a compliant and deformable liquid crystal elastomer (LCE) matrix that can achieve macroscopic shape change through a liquid crystal phase transition. The matrix is dispersed with liquid metal (LM) microparticles that are used to tailor the thermal and electrical conductivity of the LCE without detrimentally altering its mechanical or shape-morphing properties. Demonstrations of this composite for sensing, actuation, circuitry, and soft robot locomotion suggest the potential for versatile, tissue-like multifunctionality.
Project description:Reliably routing heat to and from conversion materials is a daunting challenge for a variety of innovative energy technologies--from thermal solar to automotive waste heat recovery systems--whose efficiencies degrade due to massive thermomechanical stresses at interfaces. This problem may soon be addressed by adhesives based on vertically aligned carbon nanotubes, which promise the revolutionary combination of high through-plane thermal conductivity and vanishing in-plane mechanical stiffness. Here, we report the data for the in-plane modulus of aligned single-walled carbon nanotube films using a microfabricated resonator method. Molecular simulations and electron microscopy identify the nanoscale mechanisms responsible for this property. The zipping and unzipping of adjacent nanotubes and the degree of alignment and entanglement are shown to govern the spatially varying local modulus, thereby providing the route to engineered materials with outstanding combinations of mechanical and thermal properties.
Project description:Tough, biological materials (e.g., collagen or titin) protect tissues from irreversible damage caused by external loads. Mimicking these protective properties is important in packaging and in emerging applications such as durable electronic skins and soft robotics. This paper reports the formation of tough, metamaterial-like core-shell fibers that maintain stress at the fracture strength of a metal throughout the strain of an elastomer. The shell experiences localized strain enhancements that cause the higher modulus core to fracture repeatedly, increasing the energy dissipated during extension. Normally, fractures are catastrophic. However, in this architecture, the fractures are localized to the core. In addition to dissipating energy, the metallic core provides electrical conductivity and enables repair of the fractured core for repeated use. The fibers are 2.5 times tougher than titin and hold more than 15,000 times their own weight for a period 100 times longer than a hollow elastomeric fiber.
Project description:Liquid metal (LM) droplets show the superiority in coalescing into integral liquid conductors applicable in flexible and deformable electronics. However, the large surface tension, oxide shells and poor compatibility with most other materials may prevent spontaneous coalescence of LM droplets and/or hybridisation into composites, unless external interventions (e.g., shear and laser) are applied. Here, we show that biological nanofibrils (NFs; including cellulose, silk fibroin and amyloid) enable evaporation-induced sintering of LM droplets under ambient conditions into conductive coating on diverse substrates and free-standing films. The resultants possess an insulating NFs-rich layer and a conductive LM-rich layer, offering flexibility, high reflectivity, stretchable conductivity, electromagnetic shielding, degradability and rapid actuating behaviours. Thus this sintering approach not only extends fundamental knowledge about sintering LM droplets, but also starts a new scenario of producing flexible coating and free-standing composites with flexibility, conductivity, sustainability and degradability, and applicable in microcircuits, wearable electronics and soft robotics.
Project description:Thermal management is the most critical technology challenge for modern electronics. Recent key materials innovation focuses on developing advanced thermal interface of electronic packaging for achieving efficient heat dissipation. Here, for the first time we report a record-high performance thermal interface beyond the current state of the art, based on self-assembled manufacturing of cubic boron arsenide (s-BAs). The s-BAs exhibits highly desirable characteristics of high thermal conductivity up to 21?W/m·K and excellent elastic compliance similar to that of soft biological tissues down to 100?kPa through the rational design of BAs microcrystals in polymer composite. In addition, the s-BAs demonstrates high flexibility and preserves the high conductivity over at least 500 bending cycles, opening up new application opportunities for flexible thermal cooling. Moreover, we demonstrated device integration with power LEDs and measured a superior cooling performance of s-BAs beyond the current state of the art, by up to 45?°C reduction in the hot spot temperature. Together, this study demonstrates scalable manufacturing of a new generation of energy-efficient and flexible thermal interface that holds great promise for advanced thermal management of future integrated circuits and emerging applications such as wearable electronics and soft robotics.
Project description:Conductive elastic composites have been used widely in soft electronics and soft robotics. These composites are typically a mixture of conductive fillers within elastomeric substrates. They can sense strain via changes in resistance resulting from separation of the fillers during elongation. Thus, most elastic composites exhibit a negative piezoconductive effect, i.e. the conductivity decreases under tensile strain. This property is undesirable for stretchable conductors since such composites may become less conductive during deformation. Here, we report a liquid metal-filled magnetorheological elastomer comprising a hybrid of fillers of liquid metal microdroplets and metallic magnetic microparticles. The composite's resistivity reaches a maximum value in the relaxed state and drops drastically under any deformation, indicating that the composite exhibits an unconventional positive piezoconductive effect. We further investigate the magnetic field-responsive thermal properties of the composite and demonstrate several proof-of-concept applications. This composite has prospective applications in sensors, stretchable conductors, and responsive thermal interfaces.
Project description:Smart fabrics offer the potential for a new generation of soft robotics and wearable technologies through the fusion of smart materials, textiles and electrical circuitries. Conductive and stretchable textiles have inherent compliance and low resistance that are suitable for driving artificial muscle actuators and are potentially safer electrode materials for soft actuation technologies. We demonstrate how soft electroactive actuating structures can be designed and fabricated from conducting textiles. We first quantitatively analyse a range of stretchable conductive textiles for dielectric elastomer actuators (DEAs). We found that conductive-knit textiles are more suitable for unidirectional DEA applications due to the largest difference (150%) in principle strain axes, whereas isotropic textiles are more suited to bidirectional DEA applications due to the smallest (11.1%) principle strain difference. Finally, we demonstrate controllable breathability through a planar e-textile DEA-driven skin and show thermal regulation in a wearable prototype that exploits soft actuation and kirigami.
Project description:The need for mechanical manipulation during the curing of conventional liquid crystal elastomers diminishes their applicability in the field of shape-programmable soft materials and future applications in additive manufacturing. Here we report on polymer-dispersed liquid crystal elastomers, novel composite materials that eliminate this difficulty. Their thermal shape memory anisotropy is imprinted by curing in external magnetic field, providing for conventional moulding of macroscopically sized soft, thermomechanically active elastic objects of general shapes. The binary soft-soft composition of isotropic elastomer matrix, filled with freeze-fracture-fabricated, oriented liquid crystal elastomer microparticles as colloidal inclusions, allows for fine-tuning of thermal morphing behaviour. This is accomplished by adjusting the concentration, spatial distribution and orientation of microparticles or using blends of microparticles with different thermomechanical characteristics. We demonstrate that any Gaussian thermomechanical deformation mode (bend, cup, saddle, left and right twist) of a planar sample, as well as beat-like actuation, is attainable with bilayer microparticle configurations.
Project description:Dielectric elastomer actuator (DEA) based on dielectric elastomer holds promising applications in soft robotics. Compliant electrodes with large stretchability and high electrical conductivity are the vital components for the DEAs. In this study, a type of DEA was developed using carbon nanotube/polyvinyl alcohol (CNT/PVA) hydrogel electrodes. The CNT/PVA hydrogel electrodes demonstrate a stretchability up to 200% with a small relative resistance change of approximately 1.2, and a self-healing capability. The areal strain of the DEA based on the CNT/PVA hydrogel electrodes is more than 40%, much higher than the ones based on pure PVA electrodes.