High thermal conductivity in soft elastomers with elongated liquid metal inclusions. Academic Article uri icon


  • Soft dielectric materials typically exhibit poor heat transfer properties due to the dynamics of phonon transport, which constrain thermal conductivity (k) to decrease monotonically with decreasing elastic modulus (E). This thermal-mechanical trade-off is limiting for wearable computing, soft robotics, and other emerging applications that require materials with both high thermal conductivity and low mechanical stiffness. Here, we overcome this constraint with an electrically insulating composite that exhibits an unprecedented combination of metal-like thermal conductivity, an elastic compliance similar to soft biological tissue (Young's modulus < 100 kPa), and the capability to undergo extreme deformations (>600% strain). By incorporating liquid metal (LM) microdroplets into a soft elastomer, we achieve a 25 increase in thermal conductivity (4.7 0.2 Wm-1K-1) over the base polymer (0.20 0.01 Wm-1K-1) under stress-free conditions and a 50 increase (9.8 0.8 Wm-1K-1) when strained. This exceptional combination of thermal and mechanical properties is enabled by a unique thermal-mechanical coupling that exploits the deformability of the LM inclusions to create thermally conductive pathways in situ. Moreover, these materials offer possibilities for passive heat exchange in stretchable electronics and bioinspired robotics, which we demonstrate through the rapid heat dissipation of an elastomer-mounted extreme high-power LED lamp and a swimming soft robot.

published proceedings

  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A

altmetric score

  • 243.798

author list (cited authors)

  • Bartlett, M. D., Kazem, N., Powell-Palm, M. J., Huang, X., Sun, W., Malen, J. A., & Majidi, C.

citation count

  • 400

complete list of authors

  • Bartlett, Michael D||Kazem, Navid||Powell-Palm, Matthew J||Huang, Xiaonan||Sun, Wenhuan||Malen, Jonathan A||Majidi, Carmel

publication date

  • February 2017