Carnegie Mellon University

Pipette places drops of fluidic transistor

November 30, 2017

Fluidic Transistor Ushers the Age of Liquid Computers

By Vidya Palepu

Lisa Kulick

Transistors, those tiny electrical switches that process signals and data, are the brain power behind every electronic device–from laptops and smartphones to your digital thermostat. As they continue to shrink in size, computers have become smaller, more powerful, and more pervasive. However, as we look to build squishy, human-friendly machines that have the look and feel of soft natural organisms, we need to look beyond the rigid materials used to create electrical switches and circuits.

Mechanical engineers Carmel Majidi and James Wissman of the Soft Machines Lab at Carnegie Mellon have been looking at new ways to create electronics that are not just digitally functional but also soft and deformable. Rather than making circuits from rigid metals like copper or silver, they use a special metal alloy that is liquid at room temperature. This alloy, made by mixing indium and gallium, is a non-toxic alternative to mercury and can be infused in rubber to make circuits that are as soft and elastic as natural skin.

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