Visualizing the Future of Electronics
As computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices become ubiquitous throughout most of the developed world, there are growing concerns about electronic waste. The City of Columbia and the University of Missouri occasionally hold e-waste collection days, allowing people to dispose of their old computers, cell phones, or other electronic gadgets. Some of the materials are recycled, but the rest eventually will end up in a landfill somewhere. But imagine if your cellphone were biodegradable….
Scientists are a long way off from realizing this goal, but a team of researchers that includes MU physics Professor Suchi Guha is trying to build the foundation of organic electronics by combining organic semiconductors with bio-inspired nanomaterials, which are microscopic structures such as nanotubes that are “grown” through a process of self-assembly. Guha and her team recently published their paper “ Self-assembled Peptide-polyfluorene Nanocomposites for Biodegradable Organic Electronics” in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.
According to the paper’s abstract, “Based on self-assembly and mimicking strategies occurring in nature, peptide nanomaterials play a unique role in a new generation of hybrid materials for the electronics of the 21st century.” A peptide is a chemical compound containing two or more amino acids (amino acid polymers) that are coupled by a peptide bond. Guha says, “It turns out these peptides can self-assemble into beautiful nanostructures or nanotubes, and, for us, the main goal has been to use these nanotubes as templates for other materials.” Guha says her team combined di-peptides (the building block for peptide nanostructures) with a blue light-emitting polymer, and the new material is approximately 85% biodegradable. In order to make a screen for your cellphone, however, researchers will require similar successes with red and green light-emitting polymers.
“So eventually the screen might be biodegradable, and at some point scientists hope to make the electronics out of printable ink, so instead of using circuit boards, you might use cellulose and printable inks to make the electronics,” Guha says. Then the entire device could be biodegradable.
Guha’s research is partially funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation (Catalyzing New International Collaboration) and is being conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the Federal University of ABC in Brazil.