The US Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) is building antennas using liquid metal to enable changes to the size, shape, and functionality of the electrical wiring.
Currently, the research effort is using gallium, which is known for its use in radars (gallium arsenide and gallium nitride types) and sensors.
"What we are doing here is using the gallium as a metal itself," Christopher Tabor, materials research scientist, AFRL, told Jane's at the US Department of Defense (DoD) Lab Day, held on 18 May at the Pentagon in Washington, DC.
"Gallium by itself melts at about 87° Fahrenheit [30.5° Celsius]. If you blend in materials like Indium it becomes a eutectic alloy that will melt at much lower temperatures," Tabor said. "So this is a conductive fluid below room temperature."
Pre-designed channels inside structural composites are filled with liquid metal to produce an embedded, physically reconfigurable antenna, according to AFRL.
"It is not mercury so it is not toxic. You can flow it and create rewiring of your circuits and changing of your antenna just by pushing it in a different position," Tabor said. "We can physically push the metal to different positions and have that antenna operate in a completely orthogonal way than it did before."
The effort is at a Technology Readiness Level 3, he noted.
At the DoD Lab Day, Tabor had a piece of acrylic to demonstrate how the liquid metal can move inside micro-channels that have been created in the composite.
AFRL is pursuing a similar effort with phased array antennas.
The effort originally began in AFRL's materials lab as a concept to put channels inside systems to push cooling fluids through.
Tabor said his group started thinking they would like to do liquid metals, to create an antenna. By using the same small channel structures, researchers at the materials and manufacturing directorate could push liquid metal through the channels to embed functionality inside of structural components.
Want to read more? For analysis on this article and access to all our insight content, please enquire about our subscription options: ihs.com/contact