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Rollerball Pen Writes Electronic Circuits

OK, this has to be one of the coolest rollerball pens ever: It writes with silver ink that dries into functioning electronic circuitry.

According to MSNBC, the pen was developed by engineering students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

"You’re limited only by your imagination as to what you could possibly do with this kind of tool," said Jennifer Lewis, the materials science and engineering professor who led the development.

The idea to use a pen originated with Lewis’ students, who were searching for inexpensive ways to do patterning for electrodes. They seized on the rollerball pen because it’s cheap, portable and easy to use.

Upon removing the standard ink cartridge, the team replaced it with conductive ink synthesized in the lab from a concentrated mixture of silver particles, a liquid solvent and a small amount of polymer. The silver ink is formulated to have the same consistency as the commercial ink so it matches the flow behavior.

The designers told MSNBC they anticipate the pen could be used by everyone from a soldier in the field creating an antenna to a kid working on a science project.

The ink is even flexible, so it can be folded without breaking the circuits.

How awesome is that?

From the university:

Metallic inks have been used in approaches using inkjet printers to fabricate electronic devices, but the pen offers freedom and flexibility to apply ink directly to paper or other rough surfaces instantly, at low cost and without programming.

According to the university, the researchers have even used the silver rollerball pen to enhance artwork. They sketched a copy of the painting “Sae-Han-Do” by Jung Hee Kim, drawing wiring into the roof of a house portrayed in the painting. That wiring allowed them to mount an LED on the roof, connected to a 5-volt battery on the painting’s edge.

Of course, we were curious if the designers used a specific brand as the model for the circuit pen, and whether they consulted any pen makers in coming up with this creation.

Jen Lewis was kind enough to get back with us and share that the pen is based on the Sakura Gelly Roll, but that the designers developed their circuitry pen independently of the manufacturer.

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