How do you know if the coffee in your to go mug is ready to drink without trying and maybe burning your lips? Do you have an idea if you can still eat the meat in your fridge even if the expiration date is already exceeded? Actual there is no practicable answer but nanotubes stamps could bring the solution! Engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a stamping process that involves carbon nanotubes which might cost-effectively print electronic ink onto almost any surface – whether rigid or flexible.

Higher Resolution than Conventional Printing Methods

But what is new about this stamping method? In the past there have already been some attempts to print electronic surfaces using inject printing or rubber stamping techniques but the results have often been fuzzy. Controlling the results gets more difficult the smaller the scale gets. With conventional methods, the ink risked to disperse to places it should not. Further, the conductive ink often cracked a little when been printed on flexible surfaces so that it lost its conductance.
To overcome all these challenges the stamps developed by MIT come with a surface covered with nanoscale holes, which enable the ink consisting of nanoparticles uniformly flow onto the surface. The MIT researchers also found out that the key to success is not just the stamp’s nanoporous surface but it also depends on how evenly pressure is applied to them. Designed in this way, the stamp achieves much higher resolution than conventional printing methods.

New Techniques Bring New Possibilities

The researchers expect that these nano-stamped prints can, for instance, function as a transistor for controlling individual pixels in high-resolution displays. They could also be used as electronic labels or stickers. When it comes to food packaging, they might show a countdown how long the food inside is still consumable. Another application possibility are windows telling you the day’s weather forecast based on hyper-local weather monitoring.
Now, that there is a solution for the technical realization of such small applications in prospect the next challenge is to reduce production costs as much as possible. As soon as the costs for fabrication are low enough it will become more likely to print these applications on disposables like a to go mug or a meat packaging.

What do you think: On which items would such printed applications be useful?