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An ultra-lightweight design for imperceptible plastic electronics


Electronic devices have advanced from their heavy, bulky origins to become smart, mobile appliances. Nevertheless, they remain rigid, which precludes their intimate integration into everyday life. Flexible, textile and stretchable electronics are emerging research areas and may yield mainstream technologies1,2,3. Rollable and unbreakable backplanes with amorphous silicon field-effect transistors on steel substrates only 3 μm thick have been demonstrated4. On polymer substrates, bending radii of 0.1 mm have been achieved in flexible electronic devices5,6,7. Concurrently, the need for compliant electronics that can not only be flexed but also conform to three-dimensional shapes has emerged3. Approaches include the transfer of ultrathin polyimide layers encapsulating silicon CMOS circuits onto pre-stretched elastomers8, the use of conductive elastomers integrated with organic field-effect transistors (OFETs) on polyimide islands9, and fabrication of OFETs and gold interconnects on elastic substrates10 to realize pressure, temperature and optical sensors11,12,13,14. Here we present a platform that makes electronics both virtually unbreakable4 and imperceptible. Fabricated directly on ultrathin (1 μm) polymer foils, our electronic circuits are light (3 g m−2) and ultraflexible and conform to their ambient, dynamic environment. Organic transistors with an ultra-dense oxide gate dielectric a few nanometres thick formed at room temperature enable sophisticated large-area electronic foils with unprecedented mechanical and environmental stability: they withstand repeated bending to radii of 5 μm and less, can be crumpled like paper, accommodate stretching up to 230% on prestrained elastomers, and can be operated at high temperatures and in aqueous environments. Because manufacturing costs of organic electronics are potentially low, imperceptible electronic foils may be as common in the future as plastic wrap is today. Applications include matrix-addressed tactile sensor foils for health care and monitoring, thin-film heaters, temperature and infrared sensors, displays15, and organic solar cells16.

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Figure 1: Imperceptible electronic foil.
Figure 2: Thin-film infrared sensor and heat management.
Figure 3: Thin-film transistors on 1.2-μm PEN foils.
Figure 4: Active-matrix tactile sensing foil.
Figure 5: Stretch-compatible ultraflexible transistors.


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We thank I. Abfalter for discussions. This work was supported by the JST Someya Bio-Harmonized ERATO grant and the ERC Advanced Investigators Grant ‘Soft-Map’ of S. Bauer. M.K. acknowledges financial support from the Wilhelm Macke Foundation and the mobility programme of the Johannes Kepler University Linz (KIP).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



M.K. and T.Se. designed, fabricated and characterized the transistors and active matrices. J.R., T.Y., K.K. and T.T. performed device fabrication and characterization. S.B.-G., R.S. and S.B. performed the bolometer measurements. I.G., M.D. and S.B. characterized the temperature sensors and thin-film heaters. M.K., J.R., I.G., S.B.-G., S.B., T.Se. and T.So. analysed data and prepared figures with contributions from all authors. M.K., J.R., S.B., T.Se. and T.So. wrote the manuscript with comments from all authors. T.Se., S.B. and T.So. supervised the project and advised on device optimization.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Martin Kaltenbrunner or Takao Someya.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text, Supplementary Figures 1-17 and additional references. (PDF 12986 kb)

Free-floating, indestructible electronic foil

In the video, an 8 cm by 8 cm tactile sensing foil falls from a height of approximately 2 m together with a goose feather (approximately 12 cm long and 3.5 cm wide, 0.11 g) for comparison. The extreme lightweight design of the electronic foil allows floating in air, the device almost instantly reaches its terminal velocity of only 0.2 m/s. In that way, no damage is caused to the electronic circuit, even when dropped from arbitrary heights. (MOV 3596 kb)

Stop-motion video of a stretchable transistor

Still images were composed into a stop-motion movie showing an ultrathin transistor atop the prestretched VHB elastomer, undergoing repeated compression to 50 % and re-stretching. (MOV 2870 kb)

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Kaltenbrunner, M., Sekitani, T., Reeder, J. et al. An ultra-lightweight design for imperceptible plastic electronics. Nature 499, 458–463 (2013).

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