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This paper describes an extremely facile method to fabricate metallic wires at room temperature. The wires form by stretching viscoelastic polymer substrates supporting a drop of gallium-based liquid metal. Stretching the polymer causes the metal to also elongate due to the adhesion between the two materials. The diameters of the resulting wires, which can be as small as 10 μm, decrease with increasing strain. This method is inspired by the process used for drawing optical fibers, which involves pulling a pre-form cylinder of molten glass until it thins to the size of a fiber. In contrast, the process here is done at room temperature and realized without the need for large forces. Moreover, geometries beyond simple wires are possible including parallel, core–shell, branched, and helix structures.

The resulting wires can be elastic (stretchable), viscoelastic (soft), or plastic (stiff) depending on the chemistry and post-processing of the polymer. Wires can make electrical contacts by allowing the metal to sink through the viscoelastic polymer onto a substrate containing electrodes. In addition, removing the polymer substrate after elongation produces freestanding liquid metal wires stabilized by the surface oxide on the metal. Rheological studies show that polymers with a variety of properties can be utilized to form these wires including viscoelastic materials and gels. The ability to form metallic wires in a simple manner may find uses in soft and stretchable electronics, or enable new applications, such as ‘wires on demand’ for repairing electrical connections.

This article originally appeared in Extreme Mechanics Letters 7, 2016, Pages 55–63.

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