New technique may be key to producing stretchy electronics

A new process developed by Jeehwan Kim and other MIT engineers could be the key to manufacturing flexible electronics with multiple functionalities in a cost-effective way. The process, called "remote epitaxy," involves growing thin films of semiconducting material on a large, thick wafer of the same material, which is covered in an intermediate layer of graphene. Once the film is grown, it can be peeled away from the graphene-covered wafer, which itself can then be reused.

In a paper published in the journal Nature, the researchers demonstrate that they can use remote epitaxy to produce freestanding films of any functional material. More importantly, they can stack films made from these different materials, to produce flexible, multifunctional electronic devices. 

The researchers expect that the process could be used to produce stretchy electronic films for a wide variety of uses, including virtual reality-enabled contact lenses, solar-powered skins that mold to the contours of your car, electronic fabrics that respond to the weather, and other flexible electronics that seemed until now to be the stuff of Marvel movies.

“You can use this technique to mix and match any semiconducting material to have new device functionality, in one flexible chip,” says Jeehwan Kim, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT. “You can make electronics in any shape.”