Geeks Unite

        Xerox Silver Ink
OK. So I guess I am a geek at heart. I’ve been doing public relations for technology companies for over 23 years. I love technology and telling the world about it. Last week the geek in me hit the jackpot.

Daily, I have the opportunity to talk with some of the most brilliant minds at Xerox – the company’s research and development team. And for this announcement I worked with Paul Smith, who heads up the printable electronics lab at the Xerox Research Centre Canada, to help promote a really cool innovation – a silver ink — that could help make plastic circuitry commercially viable.

So before you scratch your head and wonder what the heck is silver ink and what does it have to do with me …. let me explain.

Think it might be cool to have a medicine bottle instruct a patient of the proper dosage and possibly notify them that they opened it less than 4 hours ago which could indicate it’s too soon to take another dose? Or how about an e-reader that could cost a tad more than a few hard covers, and is the size and weight of a spiral notebook and wouldn’t break if you dropped it? Or how about a sweatshirt that monitors your heart rate and suggests a new jogging route while playing your favorite running play list?

These applications may sound futuristic, but they provide a glimpse at what plastic circuits could do.

There are a lot of reasons plastic circuits aren’t widely used yet – cost, limits of technology etc. And for awhile scientists have been hunkering down in labs all over the world (including at Xerox) trying to solve these hurdles. This new silver ink, along with two other printable electronic components developed at Xerox, address quite a few of these issues.

Ok. Here are a few facts so bear with me for a minute.

Silver is conductive. You need it to make a circuit capable of conducting electricity. Silver melts at a very high temperature (1000 degrees c). If you try to jet this ink onto anything remotely like plastic – it melts. Xerox created nano silver molecules that melt at much lower temperature – less than 140 degrees c. – so voila – you can print it on a wide variety of materials including a ton of different types of plastic.

Another issue that affects the reliability (and therefore the cost) of producing circuits is that they require an expensive clean room environment to be manufactured. With this new invention, you can now print reliable circuits in a normal room – just as if you are printing a piece of paper in your ink-jet printer. How cool is that?

Xerox hopes application developers will think this is cool enough to take these new materials for a test drive. The company is making the ink and other printable electronics materials available as R&D samples.

If you want to hear Paul Smith talk more about the technology behind this news or take a quick tour of the lab (yes, complete with a look at the nano-size ink droplets shooting out of the ink jets – sooo cool ) check out our newsroom. Or read a sampling of coverage at CNET, Venture Beat, Popular Science or PC Magazine for example.

See, I wasn’t the only geek that thought this was interesting.

 Laurie Riedman, PR consultant for Xerox Corporation

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7 Comments

  1. William C ALBAUGH November 3, 2009 - Reply

    Great article Laurie! Very well written also I might add. I work as an AOS for NAAO in Columbus Ohio and share the “Geek inside” that you described.

  2. Paulo November 3, 2009 - Reply

    Have you eard about the researches of Elvira Fortunato on paper basead chips.

    In a new approach, scientists from Cenimat/I3N – a research group coordinated by Elvira Fortunato and Rodrigo Martins – used a common sheet of paper as the dielectric layer on oxide FETs.

    The research team fabricated the devices on both sides of the paper sheet. This way, the paper acts simultaneously as the electric insulator and as the substrate. “Is a two in one,” says Elvira Fortunato.

  3. Laurie Riedman November 3, 2009 - Reply

    Hi William. Thanks for the comment 😉 Us geeks do need to stick together don’t we?

    Actually – come to think of it — in this day and age with so much of our life involving technology and electronics …. I think we just may have to access the “geek inside” just to turn on the TV or navigate DVR 🙂

    Perhaps there are more of us than I thought!

  4. Simon Lane November 4, 2009 - Reply

    Hi Laurie,

    Thanks for the article. A question: does this technology open the opportunity for low-cost RFID labels?

    Thanks from Downunder.

  5. Jayna Sheats March 2, 2010 - Reply

    The talents and interest of writers such as yourself who can help non-scientists (or engineers) relate to a technical subject are sorely needed, and I would not want to discourage you from the task. Unfortunately, Paul Smith has taken you for a very shameless ride.

    There are half a dozen companies who already have products on the market which do essentially the same thing. Xerox may quibble about the precise curing temperature, but that is not the critical factor for practical use: there are plenty of nanoparticle silver products to print conductive lines on temperature sensitive substrates.

    Second, this is very far from the limiting factor preventing the commercial success of “printed electronics”. The semiconductor (and the interfacial qualities between the semiconductor and the metal) is the limiter, and silver ink has absolutely nothing to do with that. Organic semiconductors remain expensive, of limited reliability, and even more limited performance.

    IMHO Xerox should be ashamed of itself.

  6. Laurie Riedman March 4, 2010 - Reply

    Wow – sorry Simon and Paulo – I guess I never posted a comment back to you. What you suggest is interesting. I’ll ask Paul Smith about both suggestions.

    Jayna — I have to admit you are raising points that are well beyond my understanding -so I’ve called Paul and asked him to weigh in on you comment.

    Thanks for your feedback. I want this blog to be a true conversation and your comment is helping us do that. I’ll be sure Paul posts something soon.

  7. Paul Smith March 8, 2010 - Reply

    Your comments are well taken and we fully agree that there are many areas that need to be addressed to finally enable a fully printed electronic device including, as you mentioned, interfaces between semiconductor / dielectric and substrates. In the area of fully printed flexible devices, stable, scaleable (to a production level) silver ink with annealing temperatures below 140 C are an enabling technology advance, but we do agree that further innovations are required to make printable electronics finally a realistic opportunity. Xerox continues to innovate and develop materials in all of the areas related to enabling fully printed devices including printable semiconductors, conductors, dielectrics surface modifiers.

    We very much appreciated feedback from someone so highly respected in this field. Since we are located in such close proximity I’d very much like to have you visit our lab at the Xerox Research Centre of Canada and talk about this further.

    You can reach me by calling our main number – 905-823-7091.

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