Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Hong Zhao


Flexible and stretchable electronics have been considered as the key component for the next generation of flexible devices. There are many approaches to prepare the devices, such as dip coating, spin coating, Mayer bar coating, filtration and transfer, and printing, etc. The effectiveness of these methods has been proven, but some drawbacks cannot be ignored, such as lacking pattern control, labor consuming, requiring complex pretreatment, wasting conductive materials, etc.

In this investigation, we propose to adopt 3D printing technology to design flexible and stretchable electronics. The objective is to rationally design flexible and stretchable sensors, simplify the preparation process, form the sample with the complex desirable patterns, and promote the performance of the samples. The dissertation comprises of three major parts: water-induced polymer swelling and its application in soft electronics, utilizing 3D printing to transfer conductive layer into elastomer for building soft electronics, and 3D printing of functional devices.

In the first part, we developed the soft electronics with wrinkled structure via 3D printing and water-induced polymer swelling, which can avoid some disadvantages in conventional method, e.g., pre-stretching and organic solvent-induced polymer swelling, including mechanical loss, negative effect to human health, and unidirectionally response to external deformation. Water-induced polymer swelling was achieved by introducing soluble particles into silicone matrixes and soaking the polymer composites in aqueous solution. We have investigated the characteristics and mechanisms of water-induced polymer swelling. Then, the conductive materials were deposited on the swollen sample to form the desired wrinkled structures for stretchable sensors. Furthermore, a dopamine layer was adopted to enhance the adhesion of matrix and conductive layer. The improvement was a key enabler to achieve superior electrical properties of 3D printed stretchable sensors for long-term cyclic stretching. We have demonstrated a series of human motion detection by using these stretchable strain sensors.

Another part is designing flexible electrodes with desirable complex pattern by transferring a conductive layer into soft substrates during a 3D printing process. Taking advantage of extrusion pressure and polymer adhesion, the thin conductive layers were embedded into the printed polymer patterns, which can achieve conductive flexible electronics with desirable complex patterns. High-quality transfer has been achieved through adjusting conductive layer thickness, nozzle-to-substrate distance, and printing parameters, etc. Moreover, various printing patterns were created, and their properties were exhibited. The stretchable sensors showed an outstanding stress-strain relationship and electrical response to external deformations.

The third part is about 3D printing of functional devices. In the collaborated study, the drug particles were introduced into silicone matrix to prepare the drug-eluting devices. When water molecules transported into the silicone matrix, the loaded drug particles decomposed and released nitric oxide (NO) enabling antibacterial properties. It is noted that 3D printing is creatively employed to form the desirable patterns. We also observed a self-wiring effect in the printing process, i.e., the printed device is covered by a drug-free layer due to the diffusion of a low viscosity silicone component during printing, which can be utilized to prevent drug release bursts and to form a gradient drug-loaded device. The printed samples showed a sustainable NO release and good antibacterial property. Furthermore, the water-induced polymer swelling was possible to be used as actuator in humidity environment.

There are some highlights deserving emphasis in the dissertation. Firstly, the water-induced polymer swelling is proposed to develop the flexible and stretchable electronics. The findings have a wide potential application. Additionally, a drug-eluting polymer device with a drug-loaded bulk and a drug-free coating is prepared via leveraging self-wiring effect in 3D printing. The structure can regulate the drug release rate. On the other hand, the additive manufacturing platform offers unique opportunities to produce drug-eluting silicone devices in a customized manner. Finally, 3D printing is employed to encapsulate the conductive layers to achieve the flexible electronics with patterned structure and high performances. The facile and effective approach provides a distinctive view in advancing the development of stretchable electronics.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission