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This stretchable liquid metal alloy may be the technology smart clothing has been waiting for.
Researchers from North Carolina State University filled a syringe with an alloy of the metals gallium and indium. The combination forms a thin skin when it's exposed to air, while retaining a liquid interior state. The effect is a malleable, “stretchable” metal that’s ideal for 3-D printing.
“The metal forms a very thin layer of oxide and because of it, you can actually shape it into interesting shapes that would not be possible with normal liquids like water," lead researcher Michael Dickey told BBC News.
Other metals that are liquid at room temperature, such as mercury, are highly toxic and therefore impractical for 3-D printing. But Dickey explained that the gallium-indium alloy is perfectly safe.
In its current form, smart clothing is unfashionable to the point of being offensive. But if the electronics can be stretched out and made nearly invisible, it might not be such a silly concept.
So 3-D liquid-metal could start becoming common—even if right now, the alloy costs 100 times that of 3-D printing plastic.