Engineers and scientists have been making electronics thinner, more flexible and tougher for years — there are circuits with gold in them you can stretch, arrays of sensors that flex, and electronic tattoos that can go on the skin. Now a team at the University of Tokyo says they have built the thinnest, lightest, and toughest circuit board yet. The featherlight circuit board could lead to electronic clothing, super-thin displays and solar panels and implanted electronics that are nearly imperceptible.

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To make the circuit boards so thin, the researchers put an ultra-thin (19-nanometers) layer of aluminum on top of a stretchy polymer layer only a single micron thick. (A micron is 1/1000th of a millimeter). On top of that, the scientists put a set of transistors — the basic building blocks of a computer — made of another kind of polymer and gold. The whole thing was so lightweight that a square yard of it weighed less than a tenth of an ounce.

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Takao Someya, who led the research team, told DNews that because the thin electronics are built on the stretchy polymer, the whole thing can be pulled to more than twice its length and crumpled up like paper. Such a characteristic makes this electronic circuit durable. If used in a wearable computer, for example, a device would still work even if it got twisted or bent.

The work appears online in the journal Nature.

Credit: Someya-Sekitani Group, The University of Tokyo