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Highly Uniform and Low Hysteresis Pressure Sensor to Increase Practical Applicability
< Professor Steve Park (left) and the First Author Mr. Jinwon Oh (right) > Researchers have designed a flexible pressure sensor that is expected to have a much wider applicability. A KAIST research team fabricated a piezoresistive pressure sensor of high uniformity with low hysteresis by chemically grafting a conductive polymer onto a porous elastomer template. The team discovered that the uniformity of pore size and shape is directly related to the uniformity of the sensor. The team noted that by increasing pore size and shape variability, the variability of the sensor characteristics also increases. Researchers led by Professor Steve Park from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering confirmed that compared to other sensors composed of randomly sized and shaped pores, which had a coefficient of variation in relative resistance change of 69.65%, their newly developed sensor exhibited much higher uniformity with a coefficient of variation of 2.43%. This study was reported in Small as the cover article on August 16. Flexible pressure sensors have been actively researched and widely applied in electronic equipment such as touch screens, robots, wearable healthcare devices, electronic skin, and human-machine interfaces. In particular, piezoresistive pressure sensors based on elastomer‐conductive material composites hold significant potential due to their many advantages including a simple and low-cost fabrication process. Various research results have been reported for ways to improve the performance of piezoresistive pressure sensors, most of which have been focused on increasing the sensitivity. Despite its significance, maximizing the sensitivity of composite-based piezoresistive pressure sensors is not necessary for many applications. On the other hand, sensor-to-sensor uniformity and hysteresis are two properties that are of critical importance to realize any application. The importance of sensor-to-sensor uniformity is obvious. If the sensors manufactured under the same conditions have different properties, measurement reliability is compromised, and therefore the sensor cannot be used in a practical setting. In addition, low hysteresis is also essential for improved measurement reliability. Hysteresis is a phenomenon in which the electrical readings differ depending on how fast or slow the sensor is being pressed, whether pressure is being released or applied, and how long and to what degree the sensor has been pressed. When a sensor has high hysteresis, the electrical readings will differ even under the same pressure, making the measurements unreliable. Researchers said they observed a negligible hysteresis degree which was only 2%. This was attributed to the strong chemical bonding between the conductive polymer and the elastomer template, which prevents their relative sliding and displacement, and the porosity of the elastomer that enhances elastic behavior. “This technology brings forth insight into how to address the two critical issues in pressure sensors: uniformity and hysteresis. We expect our technology to play an important role in increasing practical applications and the commercialization of pressure sensors in the near future,” said Professor Park. This work was conducted as part of the KAIST‐funded Global Singularity Research Program for 2019, and also supported by the KUSTAR‐KAIST Institute. Figure 1. Image of a porous elastomer template with uniform pore size and shape (left), Graph showing high uniformity in the sensors’ performance (right). Figure 2. Hysteresis loops of the sensor at different pressure levels (left), and after a different number of cycles (right). Figure 3. The cover page of Small Journal, Volume 15, Issue 33. Publication: Jinwon Oh, Jin‐Oh Kim, Yunjoo Kim, Han Byul Choi, Jun Chang Yang, Serin Lee, Mikhail Pyatykh, Jung Kim, Joo Yong Sim, and Steve Park. 2019. Highly Uniform and Low Hysteresis Piezoresistive Pressure Sensors Based on Chemical Grafting of Polypyrrole on Elastomer Template with Uniform Pore Size. Small. Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KgaA, Weinheim, Germany, Volume No. 15, Issue No. 33, Full Paper No. 201901744, 8 pages. https://doi.org/10.1002/smll.201901744 Profile: Prof. Steve Park, MS, PhD email@example.com http://steveparklab.kaist.ac.kr/ Assistant Professor Organic and Nano Electronics Laboratory Department of Materials Science and Engineering Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) http://kaist.ac.kr Daejeon 34141, Korea Profile: Mr. Jinwon Oh, MS firstname.lastname@example.org http://steveparklab.kaist.ac.kr/ Researcher Organic and Nano Electronics Laboratory Department of Materials Science and Engineering Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) http://kaist.ac.kr Daejeon 34141, Korea Profile: Prof. Jung Kim, MS, PhD email@example.com http://medev.kaist.ac.kr/ Professor Biorobotics Laboratory Department of Mechanical Engineering Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) http://kaist.ac.kr Daejeon 34141, Korea Profile: Joo Yong Sim, PhD firstname.lastname@example.org Researcher Bio-Medical IT Convergence Research Department Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) https://www.etri.re.krDaejeon 34129, Korea (END)
High-Performance Sodium Ion Batteries Using Copper Sulfide
(Prof.Yuk and his two PhD candidates Parks) Researchers presented a new strategy for extending sodium ion batteries’ cyclability using copper sulfide as the electrode material. This strategy has led to high-performance conversion reactions and is expected to advance the commercialization of sodium ion batteries as they emerge as an alternative to lithium ion batteries. Professor Jong Min Yuk’s team confirmed the stable sodium storage mechanism using copper sulfide, a superior electrode material that is pulverization-tolerant and induces capacity recovery. Their findings suggest that when employing copper sulfide, sodium ion batteries will have a lifetime of more than five years with one charge per a day. Even better, copper sulfide, composed of abundant natural materials such as copper and sulfur, has better cost competitiveness than lithium ion batteries, which use lithium and cobalt. Intercalation-type materials such as graphite, which serve as commercialized anode materials in lithium ion batteries, have not been viable for high-capacity sodium storage due to their insufficient interlayer spacing. Thus, conversion and alloying reactions type materials have been explored to meet higher capacity in the anode part. However, those materials generally bring up large volume expansions and abrupt crystallographic changes, which lead to severe capacity degradation. The team confirmed that semi-coherent phase interfaces and grain boundaries in conversion reactions played key roles in enabling pulverization-tolerant conversion reactions and capacity recovery, respectively. Most of conversion and alloying reactions type battery materials usually experience severe capacity degradations due to having completely different crystal structures and large volume expansion before and after the reactions. However, copper sulfides underwent a gradual crystallographic change to make the semi-coherent interfaces, which eventually prevented the pulverization of particles. Based on this unique mechanism, the team confirmed that copper sulfide exhibits a high capacity and high cycling stability regardless of its size and morphology. Professor Yuk said, “Sodium ion batteries employing copper sulfide can advance sodium ion batteries, which could contribute to the development of low-cost energy storage systems and address the micro-dust issue” This study was posted in Advanced Science on April 26 online and selected as the inside back cover for June issue. (Figure: Schematic model demonstrating grain boundaries and phase interfaces formations.)
Unravelling Inherent Electrocatalysis to Improve the Performance of Hydrogen Fuel Cells
(Figure 1. Electrode structure for the precise evaluation of the metal nanoparticles’ electrochemical catalytic characteristics at a high temperature.) A KAIST team presented an ideal electrode design to enhance the performance of high-temperature fuel cells. The new analytical platform with advanced nanoscale patterning method quantitatively revealed the electrochemical value of metal nanoparticles dispersed on the oxide electrode, thus leading to electrode design directions that can be used in a variety of eco-friendly energy technologies. The team, working under Professor WooChul Jung and Professor Sang Ouk Kim at the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, described an accurate analysis of the reactivity of oxide electrodes boosted by metal nanoparticles, where all particles participate in the reaction. They identified how the metal catalysts activate hydrogen electro-oxidation on the ceria-based electrode surface and quantify how rapidly the reaction rate increases with the proper choice of metals. Metal nanoparticles with diameters of 10 nanometers or less have become a key component in high-performance heterogeneous catalysts, primarily serving as a catalytic activator. Recent experimental and theoretical findings suggest that the optimization of the chemical nature at the metal and support interfaces is essential for performance improvement. However, the high cost associated with cell fabrication and operation as well as poorer stability of metal nanoparticles at high temperatures have been a long-standing challenge. To solve this problem, the team utilized a globally recognized metal nano patterning technology that uses block copolymer self-assembled nano templates and succeeded in uniformly synthesizing metal particles 10 nanometers in size on the surface of oxide fuel cell electrodes. They also developed a technology to accurately analyze the catalyst characteristics of single particles at high temperatures and maximize the performance of a fuel cell with minimal catalyst use. The research team confirmed that platinum, which is a commonly used metal catalyst, could boost fuel cell performance by as much as 21 times even at an amount of 300 nanograms, which only costs about 0.015 KRW. The team quantitatively identified and compared the characteristics of widely used metal catalysts other than platinum, such as palladium, gold, and cobalt, and also elucidated the precise principle of catalyst performance through theoretical analysis. (Figure 2. Comparison of the electrochemical catalytic characteristics for various 10nm metal nanoparticles (platinum, palladium, cobalt, gold) at a high temperature.) Professor Jung said, "We have broken the conventional methods of increasing the amount of catalyst which have deemed inefficient and expensive. Our results suggest a clear idea for high performance fuel cells using very small amounts of nanoparticles. This technology can be applied to many different industrial fields, advancing the commercialization of eco-friendly energy technologies such as fuel cells that generate electricity and electrolytic cells that produce hydrogen from water.” The research has been published as the cover article of Nature Nanotechnology in the March issue. This research was carried out with support from the Nano-Material Technology Development Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea.
Stretchable Multi-functional Fiber for Energy Harvesting and Strain Sensing
(from left: Professor Steve Park, Jeongjae Ryu and Professor Seungbum Hong) Fiber-based electronics are expected to play a vital role in next-generation wearable electronics. Woven into textiles, they can provide higher durability, comfort, and integrated multi-functionality. A KAIST team has developed a stretchable multi-functional fiber (SMF) that can harvest energy and detect strain, which can be applied to future wearable electronics. With wearable electronics, health and physical conditions can be assessed by analyzing biological signals from the human body, such as pulse and muscle movements. Fibers are highly suitable for future wearable electronics because they can be easily integrated into textiles, which are designed to be conformable to curvilinear surfaces and comfortable to wear. Moreover, their weave structures offer support that makes them resistant to fatigue. Many research groups have developed fiber-based strain sensors to sense external biological signals. However, their sensitivities were relatively low. The applicability of wearable devices is currently limited by their power source, as the size, weight, and lifetime of the battery lessens their versatility. Harvesting mechanical energy from the human body is a promising solution to overcome such limitations by utilizing various types of motions like bending, stretching, and pressing. However, previously reported, fiber-based energy harvesters were not stretchable and could not fully harvest the available mechanical energy. Professor Seungbum Hong and Professor Steve Park from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and their team fabricated a stretchable fiber by using a ferroelectric layer composed of P(VDF-TrFE)/PDMS sandwiched between stretchable electrodes composed of a composite of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNT) and poly 3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene polystyrenesulfonate (PEDOT:PSS). Cracks formed in MWCNT/PEDOT:PSS layer help the fiber show high sensitivity compared to the previously reported fiber strain sensors. Furthermore, the new fiber can harvest mechanical energy under various mechanical stimuli such as stretching, tapping, and injecting water into the fiber using the piezoelectric effect of the P(VDF-TrFE)/PDMS layer. Professor Hong said, “This new fiber has various functionalities and makes the device simple and compact. It is a core technology for developing wearable devices with energy harvesting and strain sensing capabilities.” This article, led by PhD candidate Jeongjae Ryu, was published in the January 2019 issue of Nano Energy. Figure 1.Schematic illustration of an SMF fiber and its piezoelectric voltage output and response to strain. Figure 2. Photographs of a stretchable multi-functional fiber being stretched by 100%, bent, and twisted.
Fabrication of Shape-conformable Batteries with 3D-Printing
(from left: Dr. Bok Yeop Ahn, Dr. Chanhoon Kim, Professor Il-Doo Kim and Professor Jennifer A. Lewis) Flexible, wireless electronic devices are rapidly emerging and have reached the level of commercialization; nevertheless, most of battery shapes are limited to either spherical and/or rectangular structures, which results in inefficient space use. Professor Il-Doo Kim’s team from the Department of Materials Science at KAIST has successfully developed technology to significantly enhance the variability of battery design through collaboration research with Professor Jennifer A. Lewis and her team from the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University. Most of the battery shapes today are optimized for coin cell and/or pouch cells. Since the battery as an energy storage device occupies most of the space in microelectronic devices with different designs, new technology to freely change the shape of the battery is required. The KAIST-Harvard research collaboration team has successfully manufactured various kinds of battery shapes, such as ring-type, H, and U shape, using 3D printing technology. And through the research collaboration with Dr. Youngmin Choi at the Korea Research Institute of Chemical Technology (KRICT), 3D-printed batteries were applied to small-scale wearable electronic devices (wearable light sensor rings). The research group has adopted environmentally friendly aqueous Zn-ion batteries to make customized battery packs. This system, which uses Zn2+ instead of Li+ as charge carriers, is much safer compared with the conventional lithium rechargeable batteries that use highly inflammable organic electrolytes. Moreover, the processing conditions of lithium-ion batteries are very complicated because organic solvents can ignite upon exposure to moisture and oxygen. As the aqueous Zn-ion batteries adopted by the research team are stable upon contact with atmospheric moisture and oxygen, they can be fabricated in the ambient air condition, and have advantages in packaging since packaged plastic does not dissolve in water even when plastic packaging is applied using a 3D printer. To fabricate a stable cathode that can be modulated in various forms and allows high charge-discharge, the research team fabricated a carbon fiber current collector using electrospinning process and uniformly coated electrochemically active polyaniline conductive polymer on the surface of carbon fiber for a current collector-active layer integrated cathode. The cathode, based on conductive polyaniline consisting of a 3D structure, exhibits very fast charging speeds (50% of the charge in two minutes) and can be fabricated without the detachment of active cathode materials, so various battery forms with high mechanical stability can be manufactured. Prof. Kim said, “Zn-ion batteries employing aqueous electrolytes have the advantage of fabrication under ambient conditions, so it is easy to fabricate the customized battery packs using 3D printing.” “3D-printed batteries can be easily applied for niche applications such as wearable, personalized, miniaturized micro-robots, and implantable medical devices or microelectronic storage devices with unique designs,” added Professor Lewis. With Dr. Chanhoon Kim in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at KAIST and Dr. Bok Yeop Ahn School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at Harvard University participating as equally contributing first authors, this work was published in the December issue of ACS Nano. This work was financially supported by the Global Research Laboratory (NRF-2015K1A1A2029679) and Wearable Platform Materials Technology Center (2016R1A5A1009926). Figure 1.Fabrication of shape-conformable batteries based on 3D-printing technology and the application of polyaniline carbon nanofiber cathodes and wearable electronic devices Figure 2.Fabricated shape-conformable batteries based on a 3D-printing method Meanwhile, Professor Il-Doo Kim was recently appointed as an Associate Editor of ACS Nano, a highly renowned journal in the field of nanoscience. Professor Kim said, “It is my great honor to be an Associate Editor of the highly renowned journal ACS Nano, which has an impact factor reaching 13.709 with 134,596 citations as of 2017. Through the editorial activities in the fields of energy, I will dedicate myself to improving the prominence of KAIST and expanding the scope of Korea’s science and technology. I will also contribute to carrying out more international collaborations with world-leading research groups.” (Associate Editor of ACS Nano Professor Il-Doo Kim)
New Anisotropic Conductive Film for Ultra-Fine Pitch Assembly Applications
(Professor Paik(right) and PhD Candidate Yoon) Higher resolution display electronic devices increasingly needs ultra-fine pitch assemblies. On that account, display driver interconnection technology has become a major challenge for upscaling display electronics. Researchers have moved to one step closer to realizing ultra-fine resolution for displays with a novel thermoplastic anchoring polymer layer structure. This new structure can significantly improve the ultra-fine pitch interconnection by effectively suppressing the movement of conductive particles. This film is expected to be applied to various mobile devices, large-sized OLED panels, and VR, among others. A research team under Professor Kyung-Wook Paik in the Department of Materials developed an anchoring polymer layer structure that can effectively suppress the movement of conductive particles during the bonding process of the anisotropic conductive films (ACFs). The new structure will significantly improve the conductive particle capture rate, addressing electrical short problems in the ultra-fine pitch assembly process. During the ultra-fine pitch bonding process, the conductive particles of conventional ACFs agglomerate between bumps and cause electrical short circuits. To overcome the electrical shortage problem caused by the free movement of conductive particles, higher tensile strength anchoring polymer layers incorporated with conductive particles were introduced into the ACFs to effectively prevent conductive particle movement. The team used nylon to produce a single layer film with well-distributed and incorporated conductive particles. The higher tensile strength of nylon completely suppressed the movement of conductive particles, raising the capture rate of conductive particles from 33% of the conventional ACFs to 90%. The nylon films showed no short circuit problem during the Chip on Glass assembly. Even more, they obtained excellent electrical conductivity, high reliability, and low cost ACFs during the ultra-fine pitch applications. Professor Paik believes this new type of ACFs can further be applied not only to VR, 4K and 8K UHD display products, but also to large-size OLED panels and mobile devices. His team completed a prototype of the film supported by the ‘H&S High-Tech,’ a domestic company and the ‘Innopolis Foundation.’ The study, whose first author is PhD candidate Dal-Jin Yoon, is described in the October issue of IEEE TCPMT. Figure 1: Schematic process of APL structure fabrication. Figure 2: Proto-type production of APL ACFs.
Controlling Crystal Size of Organic Semiconductors
A KAIST research team led by Professor Steve Park from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering Recently, solution-processable organic semiconductors are being highlighted for their potential application in printed electronics, becoming a feasible technique to fabricate large-area flexible thin film at a low cost. The field-effect mobility of small-molecule organic semiconductors is dependent on the crystallinity, crystal orientation, and crystal size. A variety of solution-based coating techniques, such as ink-jet printing, dip-coating, and solution shearing have been developed to control the crystallinity and crystal orientation, but a method for developing techniques to increase the crystal size of organic semiconductors is still needed. To overcome this issue, the research team developed an inorganic polymer micropillar-based solution shearing system to increase the crystal size of an organic semiconductor with pillar size. Using this technique, the crystallization process of organic semiconductors can be controlled precisely, and therefore large-area organic semiconductor thin film with controlled crystallinity can be fabricated. A variety of solution-based coating techniques cannot control the fluid-flow of solutions appropriately, so the solvent evaporates randomly onto the substrate, which has difficulty in the fabrication of organic semiconductor thin film with a large crystal size. The research team integrated inorganic polymer microstructures into the solution shearing blade to solve this issue. The inorganic polymer can easily be microstructured via conventional molding techniques, has high mechanical durability, and organic solvent resistance. Using the inorganic polymer-based microstructure blade, the research team controlled the size of small molecule organic semiconductors by tuning the shape and dimensions of the microstructure. The microstructures in the blade induce the sharp curvature regions in the meniscus line that formed between the shearing blade and the substrate, and therefore nucleation and crystal growth can be regulated. Hence, the research team fabricated organic semiconductor thin-film with large crystals, which increases the field-effect mobility. The research team also demonstrated a solution shearing process on a curved surface by using a flexible inorganic polymer-based shearing blade, which expands the applicability of solution shearing. Professor Park said, “Our new solution shearing system can control the crystallization process precisely during solvent evaporation.” He added, “This technique adds another key parameter that can be utilized to tune the property of thin films and opens up a wide variety of new applications. The results of this work entitled “Inorganic Polymer Micropillar-Based Solution Shearing of Large-Area Organic Semiconductor Thin Films with Pillar-Size-Dependent Crystal Size” was published in the July 2018 issue of Advanced Materials as a cover article.
A Molecular Sensor for In-Situ Analysis of Complex Biological Fluids
A KAIST research group presented a molecular sensor with a microbead format for the rapid in-situ detection of harmful molecules in biological fluids or foods in a collaboration with a Korea Institute of Materials Science (KIMS) research group. As the sensor is designed to selectively concentrate charged small molecules and amplify the Raman signal, no time-consuming pretreatment of samples is required. Raman spectra are commonly known as molecular fingerprints. However, their low intensity has restricted their use in molecular detection, especially for low concentrations. Raman signals can be dramatically amplified by locating the molecules on the surface of metal nanostructures where the electromagnetic field is strongly localized. However, it is still challenging to use Raman signals for the detection of small molecules dissolved in complex biological fluids. Adhesive proteins irreversibly adsorb on the metal surface, which prevents the access of small target molecules onto the metal surface. Therefore, it was a prerequisite to purify the samples before analysis. However, it takes a long time and is expensive. A joint team from Professor Shin-Hyun Kim’s group in KAIST and Dr. Dong-Ho Kim’s group in KIMS has addressed the issue by encapsulating agglomerates of gold nanoparticles using a hydrogel. The hydrogel has three-dimensional network structures so that molecules smaller than the mesh are selectively permeable. Therefore, the hydrogel can exclude relatively large proteins, while allowing the infusion of small molecules. Therefore, the surface of gold nanoparticles remains intact against proteins, which accommodates small molecules. In particular, the charged hydrogel enables the concentration of oppositely-charged small molecules. That is, the purification is autonomously done by the materials, removing the need for time-consuming pretreatment. As a result, the Raman signal of small molecules can be selectively amplified in the absence of adhesive proteins. Using the molecular sensors, the research team demonstrated the direct detection of fipronil sulfone dissolved in an egg without sample pretreatment. Recently, insecticide-contaminated eggs have spread in Europe, South Korea, and other countries, threatening health and causing social chaos. Fipronil is one of the most commonly used insecticides for veterinary medicine to combat ﬂeas. The ﬁpronil is absorbed through the chicken skin, from which a metabolite, ﬁpronil sulfone, accumulates in the eggs. As the ﬁpronil sulfone carries partial negative charges, it can be concentrated using positively-charged microgels while excluding adhesive proteins in eggs, such as ovalbumin, ovoglobulin, and ovomucoid. Therefore, the Raman spectrum of fipronil sulfone can be directly measured. The limit of direct detection of fipronil sulfone dissolved in an egg was measured at 0.05 ppm. Professor Kim said, “The molecular sensors can be used not only for the direct detection of harmful molecules in foods but also for residual drugs or biomarkers in blood or urine.” Dr. Dong-Ho Kim said, “It will be possible to save time and cost as no sample treatment is required.” This research was led by graduate student Dong Jae Kim and an article entitled “SERS-Active Charged Microgels for Size- and Charge-Selective Molecular Analysis of Complex Biological Samples” was published on October 4, 2018 in Small and featured on the inside cover of the journal. Figure 1. Schematic illustrating the concentration of charged small molecules and the exclusion of large adhesive proteins using a charged hydrogel microbead containing an agglomerate of gold nanoparticles. The Raman signal of the small molecules is selectively amplified by the agglomerate. Figure 2. Confocal laser scanning microscope images showing the concentration of oppositely charged molecules, where negatively-charged microgels are denoted by red circles and positively-charged microgels are denoted by blue circles. Green ﬂuorescence originates from negatively-charged dye molecules and red fluorescence originates from positively-charged dye molecules. Figure 3. Raman spectra measured from fipronil sulfone-spiked eggs, where the concentrations of fipronil sulfone are denoted; 0 ppm indicates no fipronil sulfone in the egg. The characteristic peaks of fipronil sulfone are denoted by the dotted lines.
Mussel-Inspired Defect Engineering Enhances the Mechanical Strength of Graphene Fibers
Researchers demonstrated the mussel-inspired reinforcement of graphene fibers for the improvement of different material properties. A research group under Professor Sang Ouk Kim applied polydopamine as an effective infiltrate binder to achieve high mechanical and electrical properties for graphene-based liquid crystalline fibers. This bio-inspired defect engineering is clearly distinguishable from previous attempts with insulating binders and proposes great potential for versatile applications of flexible and wearable devices as well as low-cost structural materials. The two-step defect engineering addresses the intrinsic limitation of graphene fibers arising from the folding and wrinkling of graphene layers during the fiber-spinning process. Bio-inspired graphene-based fiber holds great promise for a wide range of applications, including flexible electronics, multifunctional textiles, and wearable sensors. In 2009, the research group discovered graphene oxide liquid crystals in aqueous media while introducing an effective purification process to remove ionic impurities. Graphene fibers, typically wet-spun from aqueous graphene oxide liquid crystal dispersion, are expected to demonstrate superior thermal and electrical conductivities as well as outstanding mechanical performance. Nonetheless, owing to the inherent formation of defects and voids caused by bending and wrinkling the graphene oxide layer within graphene fibers, their mechanical strength and electrical/thermal conductivities are still far below the desired ideal values. Accordingly, finding an efficient method for constructing the densely packed graphene fibers with strong interlayer interaction is a principal challenge. Professor Kim's team focused on the adhesion properties of dopamine, a polymer developed with the inspiration of the natural mussel, to solve the problem. This functional polymer, which is studied in various fields, can increase the adhesion between the graphene layers and prevent structural defects. Professor Kim’s research group succeeded in fabricating high-strength graphene liquid crystalline fibers with controlled structural defects. They also fabricated fibers with improved electrical conductivity through the post-carbonization process of polydopamine. Based on the theory that dopamine with subsequent high temperature annealing has a similar structure with that of graphene, the team optimized dopamine polymerization conditions and solved the inherent defect control problems of existing graphene fibers. They also confirmed that the physical properties of dopamine are improved in terms of electrical conductivity due to the influence of nitrogen in dopamine molecules, without damaging the conductivity, which is the fundamental limit of conventional polymers. Professor Kim, who led the research, said, "Despite its technological potential, carbon fiber using graphene liquid crystals still has limits in terms of its structural limitations." This technology will be applied to composite fiber fabrication and various wearable textile-based application devices." This work, in which Dr. In-Ho Kim participated as first author was selected as a front cover paper of Advanced Materials on October 4. This research was supported by the National Creative Research Initiative (CRI) Center for Multi-Dimensional Directed Nanoscale Assembly and the Nanomaterial Technology Development Program through the National Research Foundation of Korea funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT. Figure 1. Cross-section SEM image of pure graphene fiber (left) and that of graphene fiber after two-stage defect control using polydopamine (middle and right).
Flexible Piezoelectric Acoustic Sensors for Speaker Recognition
A KAIST research team led by Professor Keon Jae Lee from the Department of Material Science and Engineering has developed a machine learning-based acoustic sensor for speaker recognition. Acoustic sensors were spotlighted as one of the most intuitive bilateral communication devices between humans and machines. However, conventional acoustic sensors use a condenser-type device for measuring capacitance between two conducting layers, resulting in low sensitivity, short recognition distance, and low speaker recognition rates. The team fabricated a flexible piezoelectric membrane by mimicking the basilar membrane in the human cochlear. Resonant frequencies vibrate corresponding regions of the trapezoidal piezoelectric membrane, which converts voice to electrical signal with a highly sensitive self-powered acoustic sensor. This multi-channel piezoelectric acoustic sensor exhibits sensitivity more than two times higher and allows for more abundant voice information compared to conventional acoustic sensors, which can detect minute sounds from farther distances. In addition, the acoustic sensor can achieve a 97.5% speaker recognition rate using a machine learning algorithm, reducing by 75% error rate than the reference microphone. AI speaker recognition is the next big thing for future individual customized services. However, conventional technology attempts to improve recognition rates by using software upgrades, resulting in limited speaker recognition rates. The team enhanced the speaker recognition system by replacing the existing hardware with an innovative flexible piezoelectric acoustic sensor. Further software improvement of the piezoelectric acoustic sensor will significantly increase the speaker and voice recognition rate in diverse environments. Professor Lee said, “Highly sensitive self-powered acoustic sensors for speaker recognition can be used for personalized voice services such as smart home appliances, AI secretaries, always-on IoT, biometric authentication, and FinTech.” These research “Basilar Membrane-Inspired Self-Powered Acoustic Sensor” and “Machine Learning-based Acoustic Sensor for Speaker Recognition” were published in the September 2018 issue of Nano Energy. Firgure 1: A flexible piezoelectric acoustic sensor mimicking the human cochlear. Figure 2: Speaker recognition with a machine learning algorithm.
Spray Coated Tactile Sensor on a 3-D Surface for Robotic Skin
Robots will be able to conduct a wide variety of tasks as well as humans if they can be given tactile sensing capabilities. A KAIST research team has reported a stretchable pressure insensitive strain sensor by using an all solution-based process. The solution-based process is easily scalable to accommodate for large areas and can be coated as a thin-film on 3-dimensional irregularly shaped objects via spray coating. These conditions make their processing technique unique and highly suitable for robotic electronic skin or wearable electronic applications. The making of electronic skin to mimic the tactile sensing properties of human skin is an active area of research for various applications such as wearable electronics, robotics, and prosthetics. One of the major challenges in electronic skin research is differentiating various external stimuli, particularly between strain and pressure. Another issue is uniformly depositing electrical skin on 3-dimensional irregularly shaped objects. To overcome these issues, the research team led by Professor Steve Park from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Professor Jung Kim from the Department of Mechanical Engineering developed electronic skin that can be uniformly coated on 3-dimensional surfaces and distinguish mechanical stimuli. The new electronic skin can also distinguish mechanical stimuli analogous to human skin. The structure of the electronic skin was designed to respond differently under applied pressure and strain. Under applied strain, conducting pathways undergo significant conformational changes, considerably changing the resistance. On the other hand, under applied pressure, negligible conformational change in the conducting pathway occurs; e-skin is therefore non-responsive to pressure. The research team is currently working on strain insensitive pressure sensors to use with the developed strain sensors. The research team also spatially mapped the local strain without the use of patterned electrode arrays utilizing electrical impedance tomography (EIT). By using EIT, it is possible to minimize the number of electrodes, increase durability, and enable facile fabrication onto 3-dimensional surfaces. Professor Park said, “Our electronic skin can be mass produced at a low cost and can easily be coated onto complex 3-dimensional surfaces. It is a key technology that can bring us closer to the commercialization of electronic skin for various applications in the near future.” The result of this work entitled “Pressure Insensitive Strain Sensor with Facile Solution-based Process for Tactile Sensing Applications” was published in the August issue of ACS Nano as a cover article. (Figure: Detecting mechanical stimuli using electrical impedance tomography.)
Levitating 2D Semiconductor for Better Performance
(from top: Professor Yeon Sik Jung and PhD candidate Soomin Yim) Atomically thin 2D semiconductors have been drawing attention for their superior physical properties over silicon semiconductors; nevertheless, they are not the most appealing materials due to their structural instability and costly manufacturing process. To shed some light on these limitations, a KAIST research team suspended a 2D semiconductor on a dome-shaped nanostructure to produce a highly efficient semiconductor at a low cost. 2D semiconducting materials have emerged as alternatives for silicon-based semiconductors because of their inherent flexibility, high transparency, and excellent carrier transport properties, which are the important characteristics for flexible electronics. Despite their outstanding physical and chemical properties, they are oversensitive to their environment due to their extremely thin nature. Hence, any irregularities in the supporting surface can affect the properties of 2D semiconductors and make it more difficult to produce reliable and well performing devices. In particular, it can result in serious degradation of charge-carrier mobility or light-emission yield. To solve this problem, there have been continued efforts to fundamentally block the substrate effects. One way is to suspend a 2D semiconductor; however, this method will degrade mechanical durability due to the absence of a supporter underneath the 2D semiconducting materials. Professor Yeon Sik Jung from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and his team came up with a new strategy based on the insertion of high-density topographic patterns as a nanogap-containing supporter between 2D materials and the substrate in order to mitigate their contact and to block the substrate-induced unwanted effects. More than 90% of the dome-shaped supporter is simply an empty space because of its nanometer scale size. Placing a 2D semiconductor on this structure creates a similar effect to levitating the layer. Hence, this method secures the mechanical durability of the device while minimizing the undesired effects from the substrate. By applying this method to the 2D semiconductor, the charge-carrier mobility was more than doubled, showing a significant improvement of the performance of the 2D semiconductor. Additionally, the team reduced the price of manufacturing the semiconductor. In general, constructing an ultra-fine dome structure on a surface generally involves costly equipment to create individual patterns on the surface. However, the team employed a method of self-assembling nanopatterns in which molecules assemble themselves to form a nanostructure. This method led to reducing production costs and showed good compatibility with conventional semiconductor manufacturing processes. Professor Jung said, “This research can be applied to improve devices using various 2D semiconducting materials as well as devices using graphene, a metallic 2D material. It will be useful in a broad range of applications, such as the material for the high speed transistor channels for next-generation flexible displays or for the active layer in light detectors.” This research, led by PhD candidate Soomin Yim, was published in Nano Letters in April. Figure 1. Image of a 2D semiconductor using dome structures
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