Researchers unveil plastic electronics with superconducting properties

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Australian researchers have discovered a technique that has enabled them to produce a new array of plastics with metallic and even superconducting properties. According to Professor Paul Meredith from the University of Queensland, the method can be used to make cheap, strong, flexible and conductive plastic films.

The team used an ion beam to tune the properties of a plastic film so that it conducted electricity much like the metals used in electrical wires. Prof Meredith, who led the team, claims the material acted as a superconductor and passed electric current without resistance if cooled to a low enough temperature. "This material is so interesting because we can take all the desirable aspects of polymers - such as mechanical flexibility, robustness and low cost - and add good electrical conductivity into the mix, something not normally associated with plastics," said Meredith. "We're confident this will open new avenues to making plastic electronics." To demonstrate the potential application of the material, the research team produced electrical resistance thermometers which met industrial standards. According to Meredith, when tested against an industry standard platinum resistance thermometer, the material had comparable, and in some cases even superior, accuracy. "What's exciting about this discovery is how precisely the film's ability to conduct or resist the flow of electrical current can be tuned," said Associate Professor, Adam Micolich of the UNSW School of Physics. "We were able to vary the electrical resistivity over 10 orders of magnitude – which means there were 10billion options available to adjust the method when producing the plastic." According to the researchers, the new materials can be easily produced with equipment commonly used in the microelectronics industry and are vastly more tolerant of exposure to oxygen compared to standard semiconducting polymers. "Combined, these advantages may give iom beam processed polymer films a bright future in the on going development of plastic electronics," concluded professor Micolich. The full research has been published in the journal ChemPhysChem.