So maybe we won’t actually see a real-life Terminator come to fruition anytime soon, but flexible electronics could be in our future thanks to a new method of 3D printing that uses liquid metal instead of the traditional ABS plastic that we see being used in most 3D printers nowadays.
A team of researchers at North Carolina State University have come up with a method to create electronics using a 3D printer. The researchers discovered a mixture of gallium and indium that is liquid at room temperature, but forms a thin skin of gallium oxide on the outside when exposed to air. This is strong enough to hold the metals’ shape.
During their testing, the researchers were able to squeeze out drops of the metal mixture through a syringe and create a structure that held together, thanks to that rigid outer skin that holds it all together. They’re essentially like tiny water balloons, but since they’re made of metal, they can conduct electricity and be used in electronics.
The researchers are currently looking for ways to integrate the metal mixture to make it work in normal 3D printers, where users could use both plastic and metal in the same nozzle, but we reckon it’ll take a bit more time for that happen. However, this would mean that 3D-printing fans could create electronics in the future, but we’ll have to wait and see how practical it is.
Another caveat at this point, is that the metal mixture used by the researchers is insanely expensive, so it may be a while before we see something like this hit the mainstream. Hopefully, though, researchers can find a way to cut down on the costs of the materials, either by changing the mixture a bit or finding other cheaper metals to use.