Drexel’s ‘Spray-On’ Antenna Breakthrough Could Allow for Easier Installations

Researchers in Drexel University’s College of Engineering just might have found a way to expedite the arrival of the “next generation” technological counterparts of wearable technology, functional fabrics and the Internet of Things—with spray-on antennas.  
According the researchers, the main reason this next generation of tech’s arrival has been delayed is it’s been difficult to integrate connection technology like antennas with shape-shifting and flexible, “things.” Drexel’s College of Engineering researchers believe they have solved the issue with its spary-on antennas whose installation is as easy as, “applying some bug spray.” 
The university’s research was recently published in Science Advances, which explained how the group sprays on invisible thin antennas that are made from a two-dimensional metallic material called MXene. The material reportedly performs as well as what’s being used in mobile devices, wireless routers and portable transducers.  
“This is a very exciting finding because there is a lot of potential for this type of technology,” Kapil Dandekar, PhD, Drexel professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and research co-author said in a university release. “The ability to spray an antenna on a flexible substrate or make it optically transparent means we could have a lot of new places to set up networks—there are new applications and ways of collection data that we can’t even imagine at the moment.” 
According to researchers from Drexel’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering, the MXene titanium carbide can be dissolved into water to create an ink or paint. The material’s conductivity allows it to transmit and direct radio waves, even when it is applied in a thin coating. 
“We found that transparent antennas with thickness of tens of nanometers were able to communicate efficiently,” Asia Sarcheva, a doctoral candidate in the A.J. Drexel Nanomaterials Institute and Materials Science and Engineering Department said in a university release. “By increasing the thickness up to 8 microns, the performance of MXene antenna achieved 98 percent of its predicted maximum value.” 
It would be significant if transmission quality in a form so thin could be maintained because antennas could be easily embedded in numerous objects or on surfaces without adding weight or needing a certain level of rigidity. 
“This technology could enable the truly seamless integration of antennas with everyday objects, which will be critical for the emerging Internet of Things,” Dandekar said. “Researchers have done a lot of work with non-traditional materials trying to figure out where manufacturing technology meets system needs, but this technology would make it a lot easier to answer some difficult questions we’ve been working on for years.” 
Early tests of the sprayed on antennas revealed they could perform with the same range of quality as existing antennas that are made from gold, silver, copper and aluminum. However, those current antennas are a lot thicker than the MXene ones. Materials scientists and electrical engineers have strived to make antennas smaller and lighter for a long time, so Drexel’s College of Engineering’s discovery has pushed things forward to help reduce their footprint and broaden their application. 
The school’s research paper stated Drexel researchers tested the spray-on antennas against antennas made from other new materials like graphene, silver ink and carbon nanotubes. Its MXene antennas proved to be 50 times better than graphine and 300 times better than silver ink antennas when it came to preserving the radio wave transmission’s quality. Initially, the group tested its spray-on application of the antenna ink on both rough (cellulose paper) and smooth (polyethylene terephthalate sheets) substrates. Next, it will examine the best way to apply it to other surfaces including glass, yarn and even skin. 
“Further research on using materials from the MXene family in wireless communication may enable fully transparent electronics and greatly improved wearable devices that will support the active lifestyles we are living,” research assistant professor in the Drexel Nanomaterials Institute Babak Anasori, PHD said in a release.

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