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Charge-programmed three-dimensional printing for multi-material electronic devices


Three-dimensional (3D) printing can create complex geometries that could be of use in the development of electronics. However, the approach is mainly limited to non-functional structural materials, and the 3D printing of electronic devices typically requires multiple process stages of embedding, spraying and writing. Here, we report a 3D printing approach that can volumetrically deposit multiple functional materials within arbitrary 3D layouts to create electronic devices in a single step. Our approach prints 3D structures with a programmable mosaic of distinct surface charge regions, creating a platform to deposit functional materials into complex architectures based on localized electrostatic attraction. The technique allows selective volumetric depositions of single metals and also diverse active material combinations, including ceramic, semiconducting, magnetic and colloidal materials, into site-specific 3D topologies. To illustrate the capabilities of our approach, we use it to fabricate devices with 3D electronic interfaces that can be used for tactile sensing, internal wave mapping and shape self-sensing.

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Fig. 1: Programmable deposition in three dimensions.
Fig. 2: Multi-material deposition.
Fig. 3: Tactile mapping by selective electrode pixels.
Fig. 4: 3D strain sensor obtained by means of selective electrode deposition.
Fig. 5: 3D shape sensor obtained by means of selective electrode deposition.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We acknowledge NSF_CMMI 1727492, DARPA Young Faculty Award (D20AP00001, Program Manager, R. Rolcawich), Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR) (FA9550-18-1-0299), and Office of Naval Research (N00014-19-1-2723:P00001) for financial support of this work. We would like to acknowledge the help of H.C. Liu for the antenna array collaboration.

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Authors and Affiliations



X.Z. and R.H. conceived and designed the research. R.H. formulated charged resin materials, performed depositions, synthesized the functionalized piezoelectric materials and took SEM and optical images. H.C. designed and fabricated samples, performed device testing, derived wave propagation equations and took SEM images. Z.X. fabricated the multi-material samples and assisted with testing. D.Y. derived elastic wave propagation within the piezoelectric materials. J.M. and J.B. designed antenna structures. All authors participated in drafting the manuscript, discussion and interpretation of the data.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Xiaoyu Zheng.

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Competing interests

A worldwide patent application related to this work has been filed (no. PCT/US2019/033385). The authors declare no other competing interests.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Note 1, Figs. 1–11 and Tables 1 and 2.

Supplementary Video 1

A circuit design is selectively plated on an arbitrary substrate topology.

Supplementary Video 2

Ni-P is programmably deposited in various areas of four pieces of the same unit-cell design, but differing electrostatic design.

Supplementary Video 3

Two complex dielectric ball-in-cage structures, which are the inverse of each other, are programmably plated.

Supplementary Video 4

Two piezoelectric lattices, one stiff, one flexible, both with embedded electrodes are deformed by a drop weight. The elastic wave at each layer is monitored by voltage changes to the electrodes allowing impact sensing and material property determination.

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Hensleigh, R., Cui, H., Xu, Z. et al. Charge-programmed three-dimensional printing for multi-material electronic devices. Nat Electron 3, 216–224 (2020).

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