The semiconductor industry is great at miniaturizing silicon devices and packing huge numbers of them into very small spaces. But for some applications, such as big-screen displays, it’s helpful if transistors and other silicon-based devices are distributed relatively sparsely across many centimeters or even meters. Traditionally, cheap methods for distributing electronics over large areas have produced low-performance devices; improving performance has required lots of expensive silicon.
Now Peter Peumans, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, and his colleagues have developed small silicon chips that can be mechanically expanded to cover large areas, including curved surfaces such as the one pictured above. The chips consist of discs of silicon with silicon wire spooled around them. Each disc can incorporate transistors, pressure sensors, or tiny solar cells. When the corners of the chip are pulled, the wires coiled around the silicon discs unwind. As they do, the discs, which start out nearly touching each other, spread apart. The result is a netlike array of silicon devices.
View images of the silicon discs and see how they are designed.
Watch videos of the arrays expanding.
Peumans is working with Boeing to put crack-detecting sensors between layers of structural composite materials on aircraft. And he founded NetCrystal in Mountain View, CA, to make photovoltaic panels that spread out islands of photovoltaic chips in a way that exposes them to more sunlight, without the need for focusing lenses or mirrors. What’s more, distributed high-performance transistors could control pixels in next-generation displays, such as those based on organic light-emitting diodes.
10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024
Every year, we look for promising technologies poised to have a real impact on the world. Here are the advances that we think matter most right now.
Scientists are finding signals of long covid in blood. They could lead to new treatments.
Faults in a certain part of the immune system might be at the root of some long covid cases, new research suggests.
AI for everything: 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2024
Generative AI tools like ChatGPT reached mass adoption in record time, and reset the course of an entire industry.
What’s next for AI in 2024
Our writers look at the four hot trends to watch out for this year
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.