News Release

Smart droplets: elevating tiny tech with liquid metal magic

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences

Conceptual image of the sensor-switching mechanism (SSM) using the shuttling motion of liquid metal droplets (LMDs). Image caption:Conceptual image of the senso


a Schematic top view, b side view, and c bottom view of the switching mechanism. d Equivalent circuit of the SSM. We connected the sensors and signal electrodes to serially arranged electrodes

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Credit: Microsystems & Nanoengineering

Advancements in the miniaturization of sensors and actuators have significantly pushed the integration of these components onto single chips, imbuing them with multifunctional capabilities. This progression is especially impactful in the medical sector, enhancing diagnostics and patient monitoring through minimally invasive means in devices such as endoscopes and catheters. Despite these advancements, the intricacy of wiring and structure within tightly packed chips presents substantial challenges. To circumvent these hurdles, a team of researchers has innovated signal-switching mechanisms (SSMs) employing non-toxic liquid metal droplets (LMDs), particularly a gallium alloy named Galinstan, as a mercury substitute. Published (DOI: 10.1038/s41378-024-00652-1) on March 29, 2024, in Microsystems & Nanoengineering, their work delineates the utilization of Galinstan within microchannels, controlled through pressure modulation to achieve a spatial resolution nearing 100 micrometers.

This methodology allows for the precise activation of integrated sensors by manipulating the droplets' locations, thus detecting capacitance changes to estimate their positions without the need for visual confirmation. Such a strategy is invaluable in scenarios like internal body examinations, where direct visibility is obstructed, outperforming conventional techniques by ensuring meticulous control over the droplets' maneuvers. These droplets effectively act as switches, modulating the sensors' states, while the system's capacity to interpret the electrical signal variations induced by the droplets' motion facilitates the tracking of their unseen positions and actions.

Shinji Bono, the project's lead scientist, remarked, "Our liquid metal droplet-based mechanism not only streamlines device architecture but also introduces a non-toxic alternative to mercury, broadening the horizons for its application in medical and environmental fields."

This innovative signal-switching mechanism harbors immense potential for enhancing multisensing systems, especially in environments where visibility is limited. It enables the selective extraction and retrieval of data from integrated sensors, paving the path toward more advanced monitoring and diagnostic apparatuses. Such technologies are particularly pivotal in the realm of medical devices, where the emphasis on minimally invasive procedures is ever-growing.





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Funding information

This work was partially supported by the Ritsumeikan Advanced Research Academy and the Ritsumeikan Global Innovation Research Organization.

About Microsystems & Nanoengineering

Microsystems & Nanoengineering is an online-only, open access international journal devoted to publishing original research results and reviews on all aspects of Micro and Nano Electro Mechanical Systems from fundamental to applied research. The journal is published by Springer Nature in partnership with the Aerospace Information Research Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, supported by the State Key Laboratory of Transducer Technology.

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