Improving Inkjet Printing by Encapsulating Ink in Liquid Crystal for Advanced Materials

Xiaoyu Tang

MIE Assistant Professor Xiaoyu Tang, in collaboration with Xiaoguang Wang from Ohio State University, was awarded a $625K NSF award for “Inkjet Printing Framework by Droplet Impact-induced Ink Release from Liquid Crystal Receiving Substrate.” Tang joined the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering department in 2021 and her research interests include multiphase flow, microfluidics, colloidal science, and soft matter, with applications in energy, environment, and healthcare.

Abstract Source: NSF

Inkjet printing technology is a widely utilized manufacturing method due to its high precision and reproducibility. However, the current inkjet printing technology is restricted by the limited choices of inks and requires additional formulation steps to print composite materials, which limits its applications in industry. This grant supports fundamental research that aims to create a new inkjet printing method to encapsulate ink in a liquid crystal substrate and eventually expands to a larger range of materials. If successful, the research outcomes will enable printing of advanced materials, including organic electronics for sensors and wearable devices, and benefit healthcare and energy sectors. The outreach and education activities involve students ranging from K-12 to undergraduate levels to stimulate interests in STEM fields, which will train the next generation of manufacturing workforce and encourage the participation of underrepresented groups in STEM.

Traditional inkjet printing requires ink materials with low viscosity and high ejection speed for the dispensing of ink droplets. On the other hand, low viscosity leads to droplets splashing on the receiving substrate and compromising the print resolution. As a result, there are limited combinations of ink properties and operating conditions that are printable. Instead of dispensing the ink droplet onto conventional solid surfaces, this grant supports basic research that aims to understand the impact-induced ink release mechanism for ink chemicals embedded in a liquid crystal film. In this process, the ink is released onto the liquid crystal surface using droplet impacts to enable the inkjet printing of viscous materials. Theoretical analysis will be carried out to identify critical conditions required for the controlled release of the embedded ink in the liquid crystal film. Critical parameters that allow the design of the liquid crystal film and the control of the ink release will be identified using experiments to understand the effects of Weber number on ink release. If successful, this research will enable the printing of materials with controlled thickness and dimensions that were previously difficult or impossible to print, such as thermosetting and (semi)conducting polymers.

This award reflects NSF’s statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation’s intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Faculty: Xiaoyu Tang

Related Departments:Mechanical & Industrial Engineering