Billions of objects ranging from smartphones and buildings, to machine parts and medical devices, to furniture and office supplies — any object that has a need to communicate with or sense other objects.


The peelable electronic films can be cut and pasted onto any object to achieve desired functions. (Purdue University/Chi Hwan Lee)

As society moves toward connecting all objects to the Internet — the Internet of Things — the technology that enables these objects to communicate and sense each other needs to scale up. A new fabrication method makes tiny, thin-film electronic circuits peelable from a surface. It allows any object to sense its environment or be controlled through the application of a high-tech sticker. Most of today's electronic circuits are individually built on their own silicon wafer that withstands the high temperatures and chemical etching used to remove the circuits from the wafer. But that damages the wafer, forcing the manufacturing process to accommodate an entirely new wafer each time. The new fabrication technique, called “transfer printing,” cuts down manufacturing costs by using a single wafer to build a nearly infinite number of thin films holding electronic circuits. Instead of high temperatures and chemicals, the film can peel off at room temperature with the simple energy-saving help of water. A ductile metal layer such as nickel, inserted between the electronic film and the silicon wafer, makes the peeling possible in water. These thin-film electronics can be trimmed and pasted onto any surface, granting that object electronic features.

Electronic stickers can turn ordinary toy blocks into high-tech sensors within the Internet of Things. (Purdue University/Chi Hwan Lee)


Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN


The inventors hold a non-provisional United States patent.


Eventually, these stickers could also facilitate wireless communication. A sensor could be stuck onto a drone, for example, that could be sent into dangerous areas. The components of electronic integrated circuits work just as well before and after they are made into stickers.