Massachusetts govt invests in flexible hybrid electronics

Thursday, 12 October, 2017

The University of Massachusetts Amherst has received a US$500,000 grant from the Massachusetts Manufacturing Innovation Initiative (M2I2) to support research into flexible hybrid electronics (FHE).

The M2I2 grant supports continuing work by polymer scientist James Watkins, director of UMass Amherst’s Center for Hierarchical Manufacturing — a nanomanufacturing research centre that works with manufacturers to develop processes and products such as roll-to-roll printed flexible nanobatteries, antennas, leads and sensors. It is part of a $6.98 million package recently awarded to seven advanced manufacturing projects, announced by Governor Charlie Baker and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash.

Watkins and his team believe the electronics of the future will perform tasks currently undertaken by expensive, rigid devices that use silicon-based semiconductor chips. Over the next few years, these will be replaced with smaller, less expensive components such as sensors printed on thin plastic ribbons in roll-to-roll manufacturing facilities like the one at the campus’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences (IALS). Hybrid devices that include both silicon chip-based components and printed sensors thus represent a bridge between today’s technology and fully printed devices.

Watkins said his research focuses on smart, small, flexible and inexpensive sensors, with the ultimate goal to produce, for example, a skin patch that monitors activity and has sensors to collect biomarkers for glucose, stress or medication levels. Such intelligent patch sensors are already being developed by the IALS Center for Personalized Health Monitoring.

“Advanced sensors, smart construction materials and adaptable clothing are just a few of the innovative products that will be developed in Massachusetts’ evolving manufacturing sector over the coming decades,” said Governor Baker. “These awards will ensure the Commonwealth remains a leader in advanced manufacturing, providing companies access to cutting-edge technology, spurring job creation and economic growth, and training students for the career opportunities of the future.”

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