Skin-Like Stretchable Electronics Start With Molecules

A solar panel that could ball-up to the size of a grapefruit and expand to the size of a room, created from super-compliant fracture-proof electronics — that's Darren Lipomi's dream.

The professor in the department of nanoengineering at University of California at San Diego (UCSD) envisions a world filled with self-repairing sensor “skins,” each made from a super-thin layer of organic stretchable material similar to a thin piece of plastic, pliable as foil, allowing a semiconductor to conform to the object and stretch with movement.

How would this next phase of bendable materials influence changes in the supply chain? For starters, it could turn flexible electronics into another layer of skin, giving new meaning to the phrase “mobile technology.” OEMs will need to alter manufacturing processes to accommodate the transition.

Lipomi (along with UCSD colleagues Suchol Savagatrup, Adam D. Printz, Timothy F. O'Connor, and Alizksandr V. Zaretski) is exploring the use of different types of electronics with molecular structures that permit conductive materials to function continuously when deformed or contorted in any direction during long periods of time.

By determining the structural details of organic semiconductors at the molecular level, the scientists believe it would enable super-thin film-like materials — of 100 nanometers — to stretch without the loss of electronic functions. A thickness of about one hundred billionth of a meter is usually more than enough material to emit light in displays, he says.

Think of a thin, stretchable second skin on any object such as a baseball or piece of clothing. His passion lies with solar panels, which he describes as a very large fracture-proof solar module for utility-scale projects to generate electricity. He also sees use for commercial displays in wearable devices like clothing and watches from Apple, Google, LG, Samsung, Microsoft, and others.

The research identifies general types of stretchable electronic materials and provides examples of applications. The research also suggests the main challenge is to gain a better understanding of the ways in which molecular structure simultaneously influences electronic and mechanical properties in order to make it bendable.

There are challenges. Janine Love wrote about several in December 2013. While there's a big knowledge gap in going from something in the laboratory to a commercial product, Lipomi expects to see the use of this stretchable organic material within 10 to 20 years. That will depend on how well the community works together to develop processes and the technology.

Larger problems come out of the woodwork when expanding from small applications to larger projects. Success will mean finding a way to integrate organic materials, so electronics perform consistently in flexible materials.

The ability to obtain good electronic properties from highly amorphous films seems to represent one way, while another points to a method that prepares stretchable nanowire “fabrics” from solution processing or electrospinning. The research calls the later the “middle ground between composite and molecular approaches to elastic semiconductors.”

Finding the solution will require collaboration between device engineers, materials scientists, synthetic chemists, and theorists specializing in both electronic structure calculations and the mechanical behavior of soft materials — all in order to meet the challenges represented by high-performance molecular semiconductors with predictable mechanical properties, following the research.

37 comments on “Skin-Like Stretchable Electronics Start With Molecules

  1. prabhakar_deosthali
    July 30, 2014

    This looks to be still a distant reality for the current supply chain professionals to worry about.


    Many a news items are appearing claiming successes in the bendable, streachable electronics. With the advent of organic LEDs, some products such as OLED based displays and TVs have already started appearing in the market.


    One of the problems whcih this kind of strechable electronics will face is the possibility of its contamination in handling the products in the supply chain.



  2. Himanshugupta
    July 31, 2014

    I have read a lot of crazy ideas and seen people working on them to realize those. The molecular electronics that stretch like skin and can incorporate devices such as solar cell may sound too futuristic but i guess its reasonably crazy idea. Professor now just need to make funding agency buy his idea.

  3. ahdand
    July 31, 2014

    @Himanshugupta: Well there are people to fund these type of ideas for sure. 

  4. ahdand
    July 31, 2014

    @prabarkar: Is it a common issue or does it appear on customized versions ? 

  5. ITempire
    July 31, 2014

    I am excited to hear the idea of this. Portability of many devices is currently a problem and I hope it will all get resolved once we have the stretchable devices on our hands.

  6. ITempire
    July 31, 2014

    I am hopeful that the manufacturers will be able tackle this problem of supply chain. I think the manufacturers need to understand that in addition to the use of the products, they need to be such that they don't face any physical deterioration before they reach the users. Hence it would mean that it will face physical deterioration when in the hands of users too.

  7. ITempire
    July 31, 2014

    How much time do you think it will take before it becomes a reality ?

  8. Taimoor Zubar
    July 31, 2014

    “This looks to be still a distant reality for the current supply chain professionals to worry about.”

    @prabhakar: This may look like a distant reality from the perspective of becoming commercially viable. I agree that's when the real role of supply chain people starts. However, in terms of experimental versions of the product, this doesn't seem like a very far-fetched idea.

  9. Taimoor Zubar
    July 31, 2014

    “The molecular electronics that stretch like skin and can incorporate devices such as solar cell may sound too futuristic but i guess its reasonably crazy idea”

    @Himanshugupta: It doesn't seem as crazy as some of the other ideas that I've seen. I agree it seems fairly reasonable and viable at this point. Before the advent of Google Glass, people also found that as a crazy idea but it didn't take a very long time for it to become a successful product.

  10. Ashu001
    July 31, 2014


    Have you watched Transformers 4?

    [The latest version of the Hit Franchise Movie???]

    They cover exactly the same philosophy as has been illustrated here.

    Talk about Fiction imitating Life!!!



  11. Laurie Sullivan
    August 5, 2014

    It may sound a bit crazy, but I actually wonder if one day we will see a screen embedded in the skin. Along with Motorola, Google acquired a patent for a system embedded in the human body in the form of a tattoo that includes a NFC chip, which detects inflections in the human voice. Combine the too and you no longer need hardware.

  12. Laurie Sullivan
    August 5, 2014

    WaqasAltaf, Professor Darren Lipomi expects to see the use of stretchable organic material within 10 to 20 years. 

  13. matt212
    August 12, 2014

    With the right engineers everything is possible, this kind of electronics might reach the market sooner than expected. They should think about going for contract engineering, the more people work on the project the better.

  14. ITempire
    August 16, 2014

    Hmm. I hope this time frame reduces and I personally think it will happen within 7-8 years.

  15. ahdand
    August 17, 2014

    @waqas: Yes it will take some time but I feel its important so consuming or allowing time to pass for this to be matured is vital 

  16. ITempire
    August 21, 2014

    Nimtha, the need of people who are on constant travel to keep a complete IT solution in their pocket is there and when the need is there, manufacturers try to be one up and meeting that demand to get the fair share of the glory and revenue.

  17. Ashu001
    August 31, 2014


    To me personally it does'nt sound that far-fetched.

    A lot of people Are ready to undergo these kind of Experiments on their Own Bodies today(in the name of Progress and Science).

    I won't be surprised if Governments are already working with such Guinea Pigs today.

    Its not entirely outside the Realm of Current Reality.


  18. Ashu001
    August 31, 2014


    Very,Very True.

    I will readily say I am one such consumer.

    I hate carrying around Multiple Devices with me when I am moving around .

    Would rather have just one Robust Device which can do everything I want it to do effectively.

    Anything less would not cut it(atleast for me personally).


  19. ITempire
    September 21, 2014

    Tech4people, I think it is critically important these days for device manufacturers to first take a survey as to whether the product they are launching is adding something new or whether it is being better catered through some other technique. For e.g. a 7 inch tablet does nothing extra which a 5.5 inch smartphone does. Specifications are secondary.

  20. Ashu001
    September 25, 2014


    Not just about Basic Specifications but Quality of Products you produce also.

    Just look at the Absolute Disaster that Apple has had with the Apple 6 Plus today-The Phone Bends in your Pockets,the Wi-Fi's Terrible,Battery Life Sucks and the latest iOS Update has messed things up for practically all Older users.

    This tells you everywhere that Apple went wrong in the SupplyChain side.

    Is it any wonder their stock is crashing today?


  21. ITempire
    September 27, 2014

    Tech4people, truly these are bad times for Apple. One thing we never expected is the quality of Apple's products in question. It can deal with the situation of ios but iPhone 6 is now out in the market and there is no going back from the products already on shelf.

  22. Ashu001
    September 29, 2014


    Its way worse than that.

    Everyone(and I really mean Everyone) is making fun of Apple Online please see[]

    This is a terrible-terrible faux paus for Apple even worse than the NSA Scandal which clearly proved that every single Iphone ships data home to the NSA.


  23. ITempire
    September 30, 2014


    Hmm. Though Apple has given the opportunity to get itself criticized but don't you think competitors contribute to the defamatory game too ?

  24. Ashu001
    October 4, 2014


    The More Important Question to ask is how much of this criticism/mocking is justified?

    If there is anything I have personally learnt about Apple's Mis-steps over the Last few Years or so(Especially since Jobs passed away) is that Apple Deserves the Criticism.

    The Latest news on iOS8 is that it has messed up Bluetooth Connectivity for all pre-existing Users(who had no choice but to upgrade their OS thanks to Apple).

    Do Apple deserve a Break over these mis-steps?

    I don't think so.


  25. ITempire
    October 8, 2014

    Tech4people, no matter how many flaws critics point out, fans have their mind made up before the product arrives that they will buy it. Let's see if Apple is unable to protect such a flaw in the product that really hurts the sale. Till now it has been just criticism but no reduction in sales.

  26. Ashu001
    October 30, 2014


    Fair enough statement to make.

    Fans live and Die by the Apple Brand today.

    I doubt there is much that sceptics like you and me say that can convince them to change their behavior today.

    Like this great and truly awesome Video from the Comedian Jimmy

  27. ITempire
    November 15, 2014

    Tech4people, yes Apple fans are very difficult to convince. The debate is usually lost by them on logical grounds.

    Youtube banned in Pakistan for the past 2 years 🙁

  28. Ashu001
    November 22, 2014


    Too Bad!!!

    Why did Pakistan Ban Youtube entirely? Does'nt it make more sense to ban offending videos as and when they arise??

    Can't you use TOR or something to view the Video??

    Believe me it will be worth it.

    If you want(you will have to send me your Email for that);I can email you the Video.


  29. ahdand
    November 23, 2014

    @tech4people: Well Im totally against in banning technology for anything because it's the future and when you block it what will happen to the future generation of that country ? Their future too will get blocked isn't it ? 

  30. Ashu001
    November 23, 2014


    Frankly speaking I have no clue why Youtube was banned in Pakistan;so I would refrain from making any comments either for or against it;atleast untill I get to the bottom of why exactly the Government banned it there.

    Its a well-known fact that various Governments use Tools of Social Media to foment unrest among populations Globally.

    All it takes is for someone to pass around fake Doctored pictures or Videos of Someone insulting someone else and you have  a riot on your hands.

    This is the primary reason why someone level of Censorship is desirable in today's extremely volatile world(especially when you have to deal with many Young & Unemployed people).

    Instead of the Government doing it-Lets say a Parent decided to Censor some websites/Social Media tools which they felt were'nt appropriate for their Children;Would you be okay with that?

    Same Philosophy applies here.


  31. ITempire
    November 29, 2014

    Tech4people, well initially the government contacted youtube for banning the videos but it denied. I am sure they would have considered the option of banning specific videos but may be they decided to bycott the organization as a whole. In the past few months, legislators have debated on this topic but ultimate decision was to continue the restrictions.

    In my opinion, videos that offend any community whether religious or ethnic should be restricted on public forums. So although I am sad for not being able to access the youtube library, partially I am for restricting.

  32. ITempire
    November 29, 2014

    nimatha, there are a lot of social network and entertainment websites on the internet. Dailymotion and a lot of other websites are not bad too when it comes to video streaming portals. So I don't think anyones future will get affected.

  33. Ashu001
    November 29, 2014


    I respect your sentiments entirely .

    You can always search online for Jimmy Kimmel's ipHone Video Spoof.

    Maybe you can find it on Dailymotion or some other Video Sharing Site which is'nt banned in Pakistan?

    I am not surprised that Youtube (aka Google) denied your Government's request.

    For way too long now all these Tech Companies have behaved as if they are above the Law;its only now that (thanks to EUs sustained pressure on them);that they are changing their behavior accordingly).

    I am aware of many other Tools which can block Specific Videos on Youtube;but the issue with those tools is that you actually need a full-time administrative team tracking the Videos online /Complaints as they arise so that they can block them immediately.

    For a country which may have limited Resources It can be a little like Whack a Mole. LOL!!!

    If you study the Chinese Great firewall(otherwise known as the Golden Shield Project);it works on precisely the Same Model.

    They have people(about 300,000 at last) who scour every single website which is visible inside Mainland China(including Blogs like weibo) and make sure absolutely nothing(and I mean Nothing) Negative to the Communist Party can be visible to Mainland Chinese.

    More Here-

    So this is how the Chinese generate All those Jobs? LOL!!!




  34. ITempire
    December 21, 2014


    Lolz. Banning access to things based on political differences is a completely different story and I do not support it in any case. And yes, I don't think Pakistan government has time and resources nor that interest in placing people to specifically monitor Youtube videos.

  35. Ashu001
    December 26, 2014


    So did you finally get to see the Video?

    I am so GLAD!

    Its hilariously Funny!!!

    Typically Banning stuff because of Political Differences happens largely in Anarchist/Authoritarian Societies-Where one person/Party controls all the Levers of Power.

    I have no idea why Pakistan's Government decided to ban Youtube but still feel if there was a better way to manage the situation I would recommend that way instead.


  36. ITempire
    December 31, 2014

    Tech4people, yes I saw the video. Had Pakistan's government allocated resources to filter out and banning access to those videos rather than just Youtube, things could have been managed. Now our people have become so used too of not having Youtube that they don't discuss much over it anymore.

  37. Ashu001
    January 10, 2015


    Have to agree wholeheartedly with your opinion here.

    Pakistan's Government may not see filtering of Youtube as a major Priority[Blocking it entirely is a much cheaper option] and the very fact that as you have mentioned clearly (People have gotten used to Youtube block) means its not really a big deal.

    As long as alternatives exist(which are easily accessible) ;The loss of Youtube is not such a big deal for the People of Pakistan.

    So which is the favored alternative to Youtube in Pakistan today?

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