Printed transistor breakthrough opens door for printed electronics and smart goods



  • The ability to simply, and cost effectively, print transistors en masse will create millions of new use cases and help turn even the most mundane, dumb objects into smart ones


Researchers at the Advanced Materials and BioEngineering Research (AMBER) Center in Ireland have, for the first time, managed to use 2D nano materials to fabricate printed transistors and they’ve published their research in Science. I know, I know, you’re now asking so what and why should I give a monkey about 2D nano-whatever-it-is, well, everything you use today has small beginnings and this is no exception.


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The breakthrough, for example, could help to unlock all sorts of new applications, that range from food packaging that displays a digital countdown to warn you when food’s about to go off, wine labels that alert you when your white wine is at its optimum temperature, or even a window pane that shows the day’s forecast.

You know those window panes – like the cool ones that are in Iron Man? Yes, that’s right people science might be geeky but without it Iron Man, and I’m not talking about the guy with a fancy new jet pack I wrote about recently, would have had to check the weather on his iPhone – or look out the window, either works. But it doesn’t stop there. The new technology could be used to print everything from LED’s to solar panels, interactive smart food and drug labels, and next generation bank notes and E-Passports. Still think it’s geeky?

“In the future printed electronics and devices will be incorporated into even the most mundane objects such as labels, posters and packaging. Printed electronic circuitry [constructed from the devices we have created] will allow consumer products to gather [via a network of sensors], process, display and transmit information. For example, milk cartons could send messages to your phone warning that the milk is about to go off,” said Professor Jonathan Coleman who led the research.


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“Compared to other materials used in this field, our 2D nanomaterials have the capability to yield more cost effective and higher performance printed devices,” said Coleman, “however, while the last decade has underlined the potential of 2D materials for a range of electronic applications, only the first steps have been taken to demonstrate their worth in printed electronics. Our breakthrough is important because it shows that conducting, semiconducting and insulating 2D nanomaterials can be combined together in complex devices. We felt that it was critically important to focus on printing transistors as they are the electric switches at the heart of modern computing, and we believe this work opens the way to print a whole host of devices solely from 2D nanosheets.”

The team managed to use standard printing techniques to combine Graphene nanosheets, which served as the electrodes, with two other nanomaterials, Tungsten Diselenide and Boron Nitride as the channel and separator to form an all printed, all nano-sheet, working transistor.


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Printable electronics have come a long way over the last few years but many of the materials that have been used, so far, have proven to be unstable and have performance limitations but while the teams new breakthrough doesn’t bring them to the same level as today’s advanced transistors, such as the ones in your phone, it’s a quantum leap for printed electronics and transistors, so who knows, one day very soon you too will be able to look at your window and read the weather report. Or look outside, that’s also still good.

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, Futurist and Founder of the 311 Institute is described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers.” Among other things Matthew keeps busy helping the world’s largest smartphone manufacturers ideate the next five generations of smartphones, and what comes beyond, the world’s largest chip makers envision the next twenty years of intelligent machines, and is helping Europe’s largest energy companies re-invent energy generation, transmission and retail.

Recognised in 2013, 2015 and 2016 as one of Europe’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an award winning author, entrepreneur and international speaker who has been featured on the BBC, Discovery and other outlets. Working hand in hand with accelerators, investors, governments, multi-nationals and regulators around the world Matthew helps them envision the future and helps them transform their industries, products and go to market strategies, and shows them how the combination of new, democratised, powerful emerging technologies are helping accelerate cultural, industrial and societal change.

Matthew’s clients include Accenture, Bain & Co, Bank of America, Blackrock, Booz Allen Hamilton, Boston Consulting Group, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte, Deutsche Bank, Du Pont, E&Y, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, HPE, Huawei, JP Morgan Chase, KPMG, Lloyds Banking Group, McKinsey & Co, PWC, Qualcomm, Rolls Royce, SAP, Samsung, Schroeder’s, Sequoia Capital, Sopra Steria, UBS, the UK’s HM Treasury, the USAF and many others.

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