Lockheed Martin Corporation (Bethesda, MD)

A method for creating conductive elements by using ink is described. The ink is composed of a variety of nanoparticles as well as the carrier. The nanoparticles comprise copper and have a diameter that is less than 20 nanometers. Every nanoparticle is coated with at least a part of the surfactant, which is used to separate from the other particles. There are several methods of creating circuit elements by using copper-containing nanoparticles. They include spraying, tracing, burning, stamping or heating.

1. Field

The invention concerns printed electronics, and specifically, the development of circuit elements containing copper nanoparticles.

2. Description of the Related Art

Electrical assemblies are currently fabricated by using a solid substrate that has components that are that are attached to the substrate, and interconnected with conductor paths, also known as “traces” to the substrate. The traces are usually created on the surfaceof the substrate by covering the entire surface of the substrate with a copper layer by masking the copper using the pattern for interconnecting it by using a photolithographic method, and then removing the unmasked copper. The smallest separation between the traces is often restricted by the etching process. More complicated circuits are fabricated using multiple layers of circuit traces that are separated by insulating layers and connections between the conductive layers formed through holes in the insulating layersthat are filled with conductive materials. These interlayer connections are called “vias.” These interlayer connections are called “vias”.

Flexible substrates were developed in response to the requirement for electronics to be placed into smaller, curved packaging. The traces are made by either plating andetching similar to rigid substrates, or screen printing conductive material onto the flexible substrate. Flexible printed circuits (FPCs) are like PCB fabrication that is rigid, can be used to separate circuit elements. They use similar processes to build circuits.

The ability to directly print circuit elements has been developed in the past 10 years or so, to take advantage of printing technology that is low-cost. Common printing techniques like gravure printing, screen printing offset and inkjet have beenused to make circuits with carbon-based conductive compounds and metals. Each one of these processes has advantages and disadvantages that relate to resolution as well as throughput and price. Carbon-based compounds are more conductive than circuits made of metal. Metal inks require temperatures as high as 300.degree. C. to melt the metal particles to form an conductive strip that is continuous which limits the substrate to materials that remain solid at this temperature.

It would be very useful to create highly conductive circuits using flexible and rigid substrates.

The invention permits printing of electronic circuits and elements made of copper nanoparticles. This permits the design of copper circuits on a variety of flexible and rigid substrates at pitches below 100 micrometers. When nanoparticles having a diameter of under 20 nanometers, preferably under 10 nanometers, and more preferentially in the range 1-7 nanometers, but even better within the range of 3-5 nanometers are printed onto an object in a way similar to inkjet printers and the nanoparticles melt upon impact on the substrate. The copper nanoparticles are printed in a pattern or fused with a short-duration pulse or a temperature less than 200.degree. C., and preferably less than 70.degree. C. Copper nanoparticles of the size described above can be bonded by pressure, such as compression under the form or by drawing the desired pattern using a mechanical stylus such as an inscriber. The techniques for making circuit elements can be made with substrate materials that are flexible and able to tolerate the high temperatures and chemical content of current processes. Printing and creating circuit elements using copper nanoparticles as described herein can also create more precise pitch circuits i.e. it is possible to create less distances between the elements that are conductive than other methods. Passive devices, like capacitors and resistors as well as active devices, such as transistors and radio frequency elements like antennae, reflectors and waveguides can be made with copper nanoparticle circuit elements.

In certain embodiments, a circuit element is described, which comprises a layer of formed metal that comprises fused nanoparticles that comprise copper with smaller than 20 nanometers prior being fused.

In certain embodiments the circuit assembly is disclosed that includes the substrate as well as the first layer of formed metal bonded to the substrate the first layer of the formed metal containing fused nanoparticles that comprise copper with a diameter of less than 20 nanometers prior being fused.

A circuit-printing device that is shown in specific embodiments is a sprayer that emits multiple drops of a mix of nanoparticles that contain copper with smaller than 20 nanometers to a substrate with sufficient velocity. The nanoparticles will then fuse with one another upon impact with the substrate. Each dot is comprised of the microparticles that have been fused and dots that have been fused to one another.

In certain embodiments, a method of creating a conductive element on a substrate is disclosed. The method comprises the step of spraying a number of drops of a mixture containing nanoparticles made of copper and have a diameter less than 20 nanometers towards the substrate at a speed such that the nanoparticles meld with each other when they come into contact with the substrate, and create a plurality of dots on the substrate, in which each dot has the layer of nanoparticles that have been fused and overlapping dots are fused to one another.

A method for making a conductor for the surface is described in various embodiments. The method comprises of applying a layer of an assemblage of nanoparticles that comprise copper and have an area of less than 20 nanometers over at least a portion of a surface of a substrate, and then fusing them together in at least a part of the layer.

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