Mechanics and applications of stretchable serpentine structures

Yang, Shixuan
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Stretchable structures have been developed for various applications, including expandable coronary stents, deployable sensor networks and stretchable bio-mimetic and bio-integrated electronics. High-performance, stretchable electronics have to utilize high-quality and long-lasting inorganic electronic materials such as silicon, oxide dielectrics and metals, which are intrinsically stiff and often brittle. It is therefore an interdisciplinary challenge to make inorganic electronics stretchable while retaining their electronic functionality. Patterning stiff materials into serpentine-shaped wavy ribbons has become a popular strategy for fabricating stretchable inorganic electronics. However due to a lack of mechanics understanding, design of serpentine structures is still largely empirical, whether for freestanding or substrate supported serpentines. This dissertation systematically investigates the mechanics of serpentine structures with emphasis on the effects of serpentine geometry and substrate stiffness, which involves theoretical analysis, numerical simulation, and experimental validation. Our theory has successfully predicted the stretchability and stiffness of various serpentine shapes and has been applied to the optimization of serpentine designs under practical constraints. We are also the first to point out that not all geometric effects are monotonic and serpentines are not always more stretchable than linear ribbons. To manufacture high quality serpentine ribbons with high throughput and low cost, we have invented a “cut-and-paste” method to fabricate both metallic and ceramic serpentines. As a demonstration of our method, a noninvasive, tattoo-like multifunctional epidermal sensor system has been built for the measurement of electrophysiological signals, skin temperature, skin hydration, and respiratory rate. Engineering of epidermal stretchable antenna for wireless communication is also detailed and rationalized.