Image Credit: Scott White, U. of Ill.
In a development which could have far reaching consequences for consumer electronics, a team of engineers at the University of Illinois have created a technique which could allow damaged circuits to self-repair.
The process utilises a low-melting-point conductive metallic substance, eutectic gallium-indium, placed in small (~0.01mm diameter) capsules above gold circuit traces laid on a flexible material. The simple circuit is validated, following which the substrate material was folded until the circuit broke (indicated by an instantaneous drop zero current flow). This folding action causes the gallium-indium capsules to rupture, allowing the material to flow into microscopic cracks in the gold trace and restore the circuit to operation.
It's not hard to see where this technology could become useful. Quite apart from potentially increasing the lifespan of consumer electronics through increased durability, such a self-repairing system would be of immense use in situations where the electronics are inaccessible post-assembly, such as in space-flight or protracted under-sea operation. Professor Nancy Sottos, one of the team members, said:
“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.”
Sottos, along with co-authoring Professors Jeffrey Moore and Scott White, published their joint paper in the academic journal Advanced Materials and is available online here
Sources: BBC, University of Illonois News Bureau