Why spend time etching circuit boards and applying solder masks when all you really need is a rollerball pen and some paper? That’s what University of Illinois professors [Jennifer Lewis and Jennifer Bernhard] were asking when they set off to research the possibility of putting conductive ink into a standard rollerball pen.
The product of their research is a silver nanoparticle-based ink that remains liquid while inside a pen, but dries on contact once it is applied to a porous surface such as paper. Once dry, the ink can be used to conduct electricity just like a copper trace on a circuit board, making on the fly circuit building a breeze.
Previous ink-based circuit construction was typically done using inkjet printers or airbrushing, so removing the extra hardware from the process is a huge step forward. The team even has some news for those people that think the writable ink won’t hold up in the long run. The ink is surprisingly quite resilient to physical manipulation, and they found that it took folding the paper substrate several thousand times before their ink pathways started to fail.
While we know this is no substitute for a nicely etched board, it would be pretty cool to prototype a simple circuit just by drawing out the connections on a piece of paper – we can’t wait to see this come to market.