The problem with many electronics is that they have a shelf life of a few years (depending on how long the parts can hold up), but now a team from the University of Illinois has developed an electronic circuit that can actually self-heal when its metal wires break. The researchers claim the new system is able to restore conductivity within “mere microseconds”, meaning that should your TV break while you are watching it, it’ll fix itself without you even knowing anything was wrong. While the technology is still a work in progress, the team believes their method will even work with complex systems like multi-layer printed circuit boards (PCBs).
So how have the scientists developed a system for self-healing TVs (and other electronic units)? The team used a series of 10-micron (0.01mm) micro-capsules and placed them along the length of a circuit. These micro-capsules are filled with a gallium-indium liquid metal alloy. In theory, when the circuit cracks, the micro-capsules follow suit allowing the liquid metal to fill in the cracks and restore conductivity by up to 99%.
Our example of a broken TV was a very basic example, but the technology could have huge ramifications in the world of industry and aerospace. It would allow for potential catastrophes to be averted by electronics being able to heal themselves in extreme environments – for example in spacecraft and fighter planes.
“It simplifies the system,” said chemistry professor Jeffrey Moore, a co-author of the paper which was published in Advanced Materials. “Rather than having to build in redundancies or to build in a sensory diagnostics system, this material is designed to take care of the problem itself.”
“In an aircraft, especially a defense-based aircraft, there are miles and miles of conductive wire. You don’t often know where the break occurs. The autonomous part is nice – it knows where it broke, even if we don’t.”