Manufacturers and users of wearables, functional fabrics, mobile devices, wireless routers, and Internet of Things devices.
This method sprays invisibly thin antennas — made from a type of two-dimensional metallic material called MXene — that perform as well as those being used in mobile devices, wireless routers, and portable transducers. MXene titanium carbide can be dissolved in water to create an ink or paint. The exceptional conductivity of the material enables it to transmit and direct radio waves, even when it's applied in a very thin coating. Even transparent antennas with thicknesses of tens of nanometers are able to communicate efficiently. The thinnest antenna was 62 nanometers — about a thousand times thinner than a sheet of paper — and was almost transparent. Unlike other nanomaterial fabrication methods that require additives (binders) and extra steps of heating to sinter the nanoparticles together, this method produces antennas in a single step by airbrush-spraying the water-based MXene ink. Preserving transmission quality in a form this thin could allow antennas to easily be embedded — literally, sprayed on — in a wide variety of objects and surfaces without adding additional weight or circuitry, or requiring a certain level of rigidity.
Drexel University, College of Engineering, Philadelphia, PA
The researchers are studying the best ways to apply the MXene material to a variety of surfaces, from glass, to yarn, to skin.
Making antennas smaller and lighter has long been a goal of materials scientists and electrical engineers, so this discovery is a sizable step forward both in terms of reducing their footprint as well as broadening their application. It could make installing an antenna as easy as applying bug spray.