Liquid crystal elastomers as substrates for 3D, robust, implantable electronics†
New device architectures favorable for interaction with the soft and dynamic biological tissue are critical for the design of indwelling biosensors and neural interfaces. For the long-term use of such devices within the body, it is also critical that the component materials resist the physiological harsh mechanical and chemical conditions. Here, we describe the design and fabrication of mechanically and chemically robust 3D implantable electronics. This is achieved by using traditional photolithography to pattern electronics on liquid crystal elastomers (LCEs), a class of shape programmable materials. The chemical durability of LCE is evaluated under accelerated in vitro conditions simulating the physiological environment; for example, LCE exhibits less than 1% mass change under a hydrolytic medium simulating >1 year in vivo. By employing twisted nematic LCEs as dynamic substrates, we demonstrate electronics that are fabricated on planar substrates but upon release morph into programmed 3D shapes. These shapes are designed to enable intrinsically low failure strain materials to be extrinsically stretchable. For example, helical multichannel cables for electrode arrays withstand cyclic stretching and buckling over 10 000 cycles at 60% strain while being soaked in phosphate-buffered saline. We envision that these LCE-based electronics can be used for applications in implantable neural interfaces and biosensors.