A team of engineers at the University of Illinois have figured out how to create self-healing circuits in electronics and batteries, a discovery that could lead to longer equipment life and make a nice dent in the piles of e-waste plaguing the planet.
As electronics have become more complex, one small circuit failure can render a device useless, especially since it is hard or often impossible to diagnose where that failure occurred to fix it. Nancy Sottos, an engineer working on the project said:
"In general there's not much avenue for manual repair. Sometimes you just can't get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there's no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It's true for a battery too. You can't pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure."
The solution her team came up with was an army of microcapsules about 10 microns in diameter dispersed along a circuit. When a crack occurs in the circuit, the microcapsules break open and release a liquid metal that fills in the crack and restores the electrical flow. The time between a failure and the microcapsules filling the crack is only a few microseconds.
In tests, 90 percent of the samples were healed to 99 percent of their original conductivity. It also require zero human intervention. Only the microcapsules intercepted by a crack opened while the others remained intact.
The engineers see this breakthrough as especially useful for air and spacecraft where miles of conductive wire would have to be gone through to diagnose a failure. The team, which originally used microcapsules to create self-healing polymers, want to see what other applications they may have.
written by materialsdave, December 22, 2011
written by Robin, December 31, 2011
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