Pliable Laptops, 2015

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They may look like brochures or magazines, but the futuristic devices unfurled before these business professionals are actually flexible laptops and cellphones. Mechanical and aerospace engineering Professor Cheng Luo believes that in the near future you’ll be able to fold your phone and put it in your pocket like a wallet or roll up your laptop like a newspaper. He is developing a process called micropunching lithography to create lightweight, low-cost, and more flexible polymer-based devices that have the potential to replace silicon-based materials commonly used in computers. The benefits extend beyond electronics. “Practical applications for these microstructures could be in everything from glucose monitoring to delivery of chemicals in treating water pipes,” Dr. Luo says. Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department Chairman Erian Armanios sees other possibilities. “These novel microstructures of conducting polymers could be used as sensors and actuators for engineering and biomedical applications,” he says. Micropunching lithography involves cutting and drawing. In these two operations, polymers are deformed using rigid and soft molds, respectively, creating desired channels and sidewalls that can be used for detection and delivery. Luo’s work, which has been published in the North America edition of International Innovation, has garnered three grants totaling about $700,000, including a $300,000 National Science Foundation award.

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