Flexible electronic circuits would make possible radical new kinds of devices, like water-resistant tablet computers that can be rolled or folded. A group of academic and industry researchers has now demonstrated one of the most important components for this fully flexible future: graphene radio-frequency electronics that are speedy enough to produce, receive, and process telecommunication signals.
There are many different candidate materials for flexible circuits, each with its own set of problems. Some perform calculations too slowly for practical applications; others excel at speedy signal processing, but researchers know there’s no hope of manufacturing them at reasonable prices. That’s now starting to change, says Deji Akinwande, an electrical and computer engineer at the University of Texas at Austin, who leads the work on printed graphene transistors. “I think we can realistically envision flexible smartphones, tablets, and other communication devices,” he says.