Xiaodong Chen’s pioneering research redefines stretchable electronics interconnections. Conventionally, fragile connections within these devices hinder durability and robustness. Chen pioneers the Biphasic, Nano-dispersed (BIND) interface, uniting soft and conductive materials to secure modules like Lego blocks. Rapid connection formation and nanoparticle-mediated conductivity yield highly durable and stretchable links. Chen’s innovation enhances the potential of implantable medical devices and on-skin electronics, enabling seamless health monitoring. This technology promises a paradigm shift, unifying researchers and inspiring breakthroughs across industries. Chen envisions the BIND interface propelling soft robotics, prosthetics, and more, fostering a connected and healthier future.

Which wall does your research break?

My research breaks the wall of limitations in assembling stretchable electronic devices. The existing challenge in this field lies in the fragile connections between different functional modules within such devices. These modules include soft, stretchable modules; rigid modules containing silicon-based electronics; and encapsulation modules for protection. Current manufacturing processes involve assembling these modules using commercially available pastes, leading to weak connections due to a high mechanical stress concentration at these points. Consequently, the connections become the weakest links, limiting the overall robustness and durability of the stretchable devices. The device’s strength and reliability are paramount but hindered by the delicacy of its connections. To overcome this limitation, we need to implement measures that bolster the durability and resilience of these connections. By doing so, we can significantly enhance the overall robustness and dependability of the device. My research attempts to address this crucial bottleneck and focuses on developing robust techniques to enable stretchable electronics assembly. Specifically, we developed a novel interface called the biphasic, nano-dispersed (BIND) interface. This groundbreaking solution comprised two interpenetrating materials: a soft, non-conductive elastic polymer matrix and conductive metal nanoparticles. By utilizing these materials, the BIND interface allows for the reliable connection of flexible, rigid, and encapsulation modules, akin to how Lego pieces securely fit together. When two modules with BIND interfaces are pressed together, the connection forms rapidly, typically within 10 seconds. The interface’s nanostructure enables a robust mechanical connection through the polymer and a continuous electrical connection through the nanoparticles, resulting in highly stretchable and durable connections. With the introduction of the BIND interface, we aim to overcome the limitations of conventional connections in stretchable devices, elevating the overall device robustness and flexibility to a new level. By revolutionizing how modules are connected, we pave the way for the advancement of highly versatile and reliable stretchable electronics.

What inspired or motivated you to work on your current research or project?

The motivation for my current research stems from our more than 10-year research experience in stretchable electronics. During this journey, our team successfully developed a series of stretchable modules, including stretchable electrodes, transistors, sensors, memristors, etc. Yet as we were assembling these modules into stretchable electronics, we encountered a persistent challenge with the fragile interconnections between modules in stretchable devices. For example, once we developed an implantable stretchable device for physiological signal detection, the fragile interconnects mechanically detached in rat experiments, making us determined to find innovative solutions that could enhance the robustness of stretchable electronics’ interconnections. Our long-standing research experience revealed the vital importance of addressing this practical problem to unlock the full potential of these devices. To tackle this challenge, I embarked on developing a novel technique that would fortify the connections between modules in stretchable devices. By combining insights from material science and mechanical engineering, I sought to create a solution that could withstand mechanical deformations and offer reliable performance, particularly in long-term implantable or on-skin applications. This profound experience has guided me toward making stretchable electronics more durable and practical. I aspire to contribute to various industries, including healthcare and consumer electronics, by making these devices more reliable and applicable in real-world settings.

In what ways does society benefit from your research?

My research on the soft interconnections for assembling stretchable devices offers substantial societal benefits. The potential impact is evident in both implantable and on-skin electronics. In the healthcare industry, biomedical sensors equipped with the BIND interface can be integrated seamlessly into the human body, enabling continuous health monitoring and personalized healthcare. The reliable and robust connections provided by the BIND interface enhance the performance and practicality of implantable medical devices, revolutionizing medical diagnostics and treatment. For on-skin electronics, the BIND interface enables user-friendly and adaptable designs. Wearable health monitors, smartwatches, and fitness trackers with the BIND interface can conform to the wearer’s body, providing accurate data collection during physical activities. Thereby enhancing user experience and promoting better health management and fitness insights, this BIND interface also extends to smart textiles, opening up new possibilities in sports, fashion, and beyond. Additionally, my research holds immense potential to shift the paradigm of stretchable electronics. The modular and standardized approach of the BIND interface maximizes interoperability and development efficiency, fostering collaboration and accelerating progress in the field. Consumers benefit from the “Lego-like” assembly, which increases design freedom, while researchers can focus on innovations, driving advancements in stretchable electronics. In conclusion, my research on the BIND interface has far-reaching implications for healthcare, consumer electronics, and research. By overcoming assembly limitations and offering seamless integration of stretchable devices, this technology enhances human health, user experiences, and industry efficiency, shaping the future of stretchable electronics for the betterment of society.

Looking ahead, what are your hopes or aspirations for the future based on your research or project?

I envision my research outcomes with the BIND interface emerging as a groundbreaking catalyst in stretchable electronics, revolutionizing various industries, particularly healthcare. With a strong focus on implantable and on-skin healthcare electronics, the practical applications are boundless. Medical devices integrated with the BIND interface will usher in a new era of continuous personalized health monitoring, enabling early detection of health issues and significantly elevating user experiences while promoting proactive health management. Moreover, I am enthusiastic about the potential paradigm shift my research can bring to the field of stretchable electronics. I hope to see the BIND interface becoming the uniform standard of interconnects in stretchable electronics, enabling researchers to collaborate effectively and accelerate the development of novel stretchable devices. By streamlining the assembly process and maximizing interoperability, I anticipate a surge in breakthroughs and innovations, expanding the potential applications of stretchable electronics in ways we have yet to imagine. Looking further ahead, I hope my research on the BIND interface inspires further exploration and advancements in the field. Leveraging the capabilities of the BIND interface, it could serve as a foundation for even more sophisticated and versatile stretchable devices, leading to groundbreaking applications in soft robotics, electronic skins for prosthetics, and other exciting frontiers. The potential impact of this technology is significant, and I am determined to see it materialize in practical applications, shaping the future of stretchable electronics for transforming the lives of countless individuals and fostering a healthier and more connected society.

Further Information

“A universal interface for plug-and-play assembly of stretchable devices” Nature 2023, 614, 456–462

“Stretchy electronic devices assembled in a Lego-like way” Nature Research Briefing, doi: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-023-00161-7

“A plug-and-play interface technology: boosting simple but robust stretchable device assembly” Science Bulletin, 68(2023)661–663.


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