Liquid metal marbles advance nanoscience

A team at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology has made a breakthrough that will advance research in soft electronics and industrial sensing technologies. They have developed droplets of liquid metal coated in nanoparticles that they call “liquid metal marbles”.
Researchers at the Platform Technologies Research Institute are the first to combine the concepts of liquid marbles with liquid metal droplets, creating a new platform by using functional nanoparticles as a semi-solid coating on liquid metals.
Lead investigator Dr Vijay Sivan said the marbles were developed to investigate flexible conductive systems for electronic and electromagnetic units.
These marbles have “a highly conductive core and a coating of functional nanoparticles with highly controlled electronic properties,” he said as he emphasised the marbles’ extraordinary physical properties.
“They can endure high impacts without disintegrating, can tolerate high temperatures, can operate like semiconducting-conducting systems – the base of transistors – and are compatible with micro and nano-fluidic systems.
“The possibilities this new platform offers are amazing and we look forward to exploring the potential of ‘liquid metal marbles’ in a range of applications,” Sivan said.
A multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the schools of electrical and computer engineering; applied sciences; civil, environmental and chemical engineering; and media and communication developed the new platform.
They covered the surface of liquid metal droplets with selected nano-coatings, resulting in “marbles” that were both non-stick and durable.
“This simple approach overcomes the limitations of droplets and liquid metals and means we can use a broad range of powder coating materials, from insulating to semiconducting and highly conducting,” Sivan said.
“The idea of building liquid electronics based on liquid metal marbles is unique, as they can not only move and form makeshift electronic devices, they can also produce strong plasmonic fields around them.
“For sensing applications, these marbles are the safest alternative to mercury-based heavy metal ion sensors, while their thermal conduction properties are also fascinating, and should be further investigated,” he said.
The research was published recently in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.

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