Paper-like polymer for circuits in space

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have received funding from NASA to evaluate liquid crystal polymer for electronics applications in space.


Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have received funding from NASA to evaluate liquid crystal polymer (LCP) for electronics applications in space.



The ultra-thin, paper-like plastic can incorporate a variety of electronic circuits, yet it moulds to any shape and appears to perform well in the extreme temperatures and intense radiation of space.



George E. Ponchak, a senior research engineer at NASA’s GlennResearchCenter in Cleveland, Ohio, said research to date indicates that LCP outperforms conventional materials for antennas and circuit boards in high-frequency radio applications aboard space vehicles.



John Papapolymerou, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said that LCP’s unique structure allows it to be heat resistant, flexible and strong while also possessing excellent electrical performance. It is an aromatic crystal polyester comprised of benzene rings, acetyloxy polymers, and carboxyl groups.



The material can serve as a highly efficient substrate for attaching semiconductor chips, as well as the backplane that connects those chips together, said Papapolymerou. Even micro-electromechanical system (MEMS) devices could be embedded on LCP, along with integrated circuits.



Papapolymerou believes that RF circuits for communications and radar are LCP’s most promising application thus far. But Georgia Tech engineers are also investigating the robust polymer’s capacity to embed analogue and digital chips, RF MEMS devices and RF circuits together in one flexible, weather-resistant package.