Stanford chemical engineering Associate Professor Zhenan Bao, materials science and engineering Associate Professor Yi Cui and members of their labs, have designed an electrically conductive gel – a jelly that feels and behaves like biological tissues, but conducts electricity like a metal or semiconductor. That combination of characteristics holds enormous promise for biological sensors and futuristic energy storage devices, but has proven difficult to manufacture until now, says a statement from Stanford University.
Bao and Cui made the gel by binding long chains of the organic compound aniline together with phytic acid, found naturally in plant tissues. “There are already commercially available conducting polymers,” said Bao, “but they all form a uniform film without any nanostructures.” The new gel’s cross-linking makes for a complex, sponge-like structure. The hydrogel is also marked with innumerable tiny pores that expand the gel’s surface area, increasing the amount of charge it can hold, its ability to sense chemicals, and the rapidity of its electrical response.
The gel can be printed or sprayed as a liquid and turned into a gel after it’s already in place – meaning that manufacturers should be able to construct intricately patterned electrodes at low cost. The researchers envision it being used in everything from medical probes and laboratory biological sensors to biofuel cells and high-energy density capacitors.
Stanford’s Precourt Institute for Energy funded the research.
[Image Courtesy: Stanford University]