Sprayable antennas could usher in a new era of ultracompact wearable devices

Researchers at Drexel University’s College of Engineering in Philadelphia have invented new spray-on antennas, which can be applied as easily as spray paint or bug spray. The sprayable antennas — which are so thin that they are referred to as being “two-dimensional” — perform as well as the mobile antennas used in modern devices such as smartphones and wireless routers. If commercialized, they could prove to be a game-changer in the growing field of smart devices, making it possible for devices to collect and transmit data in ways that are impossible today.

“These antennas are made of a novel two-dimensional material called MXenes that was first discovered at Drexel University in 2011,” Yury Gogotsi, director of Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, told Digital Trends. “MXenes are 1-nanometer thick sheets of metal carbides. [A single] nanometer is about 100,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper. Titanium carbide 2D sheets are metallic conductive, and keep their conductivity even when the sheets are stacked over each other during fabrication, making it possible to fabricate transparent, flexible, and wearable antennas.”

While having comparable efficiency with conventional smartphone antennas, the sprayable antennas have a few notable advantages. For one thing, they occupy less space, are lighter, and, as noted, can even be transparent. They can also easily attach to objects with a simple airbrush, requiring no binder material or further processing in order to do so.

drexel university sprayable antennas sprayed antenna crop
Drexel University

Babak Anasori, Research Assistant Professor at Drexel, noted that this is still early stages for the technology; telling us that this is “just the beginning” when it comes to rolling out the antennas.

“We believe with more engineering we can get to even thinner sizes while improving the performance,” Anasori said. “Also, we are planning to study the fundamentals and understand the mechanism of the transmission at such small thicknesses. In terms of commercialization, we have a patent on MXene antennas, and since the publication of the paper we have received [interest from industry.] We have no doubt that it can make it to the market.”

A paper describing the work, titled “2D titanium carbide (MXene) for wireless communication,” was recently published in the journal Science Advances.

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