Balsa Chips...


Modified wood modulates electrical current: researchers at Linköping University and colleagues from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology have developed the world’s first electrical transistor made of wood. (Courtesy: Thor Balkhed)

Topics: Applied Physics, Biomimetics, Electrical Engineering, Materials Science, Research

Researchers in Sweden have built a transistor out of a plank of wood by incorporating electrically conducting polymers throughout the material to retain space for an ionically conductive electrolyte. The new technique makes it possible, in principle, to use wood as a template for numerous electronic components, though the Linköping University team acknowledges that wood-based devices cannot compete with traditional circuitry on speed or size.

Led by Isak Engquist of Linköping’s Laboratory for Organic Electronics, the researchers began by removing the lignin from a plank of balsa wood (chosen because it is grainless and evenly structured) using a NaClO2 chemical and heat treatment. Since lignin typically constitutes 25% of wood, removing it creates considerable scope for incorporating new materials into the structure that remains.

The researchers then placed the delignified wood in a water-based dispersion of an electrically conducting polymer called poly(3,4-ethylene-dioxythiophene)–polystyrene sulfonate, or PEDOT: PSS. Once this polymer diffuses into the wood, the previously insulating material becomes a conductor with an electrical conductivity of up to 69 Siemens per meter – a phenomenon the researchers attribute to the formation of PEDOT: PSS microstructures inside the 3D wooden “scaffold.”

Next, Engquist and colleagues constructed a transistor using one piece of this treated balsa wood as a channel and additional pieces on either side to form a double transistor gate. They also soaked the interface between the gates and channels in an ion-conducting gel. In this arrangement, known as an organic electrochemical transistor (OECT), applying a voltage to the gate(s) triggers an electrochemical reaction in the channel that makes the PEDOT molecules non-conducting and therefore switches the transistor off.

A transistor made from wood, Isabelle Dumé, Physics World

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