Organic electronics — devices that replace heavy and brittle silicon with carbon-based molecules — are enabling a future in which televisions can be rolled up like posters, smart sensors can be placed on bridges for real-time structural health monitoring, and paper-thin solar panels can be affixed to rooftops with simple adhesive. These devices are characterized by their inexpensive manufacturability, adaptability, and compatibility with flexible plastic supports, features that promise applications not possible or prohibitively expensive using traditional silicon-based technologies.
Now imagine if these devices also could move and evolve on their own. Mobile and smart structural integrity sensors could scan surfaces for cracks or even heal themselves if damaged. Plantlike solar panels could spontaneously track the sun as it travels across the sky. These are just two examples out of endless possibilities that will be enabled by combining organic electronics with dynamic molecular crystals — materials that can bend, twist, crawl, jump and stretch. Together, Lee and Naumov aim to animate conductive molecular crystals, imparting mechanical motion to crystals that conduct charge, convert sunlight into electricity, and emit light.