How a Silicon-Based Material Can Pave Way for Self-Healing Electronics

One of the emerging developments in technology is self-healing electronics, in which materials repair themselves without the assistance of humans. Areas, where this new technology is taking shape, are robotics and wearables. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are currently working on a self-healing circuit in a small robot.

Smaller Flexible Circuits

The key to this revolutionary development of extending the lifespan of an electronic component is smaller, flexible circuits for robotics and wearables. While the concept of self-healing devices has been studied for years, only recently has it been demonstrated. Since 2015 scientists from the University of California, San Diego and the University of Pittsburgh have been experimenting with self-healing electronics.

The foundation of this work has been utilizing nanoparticles playing the role of nanorobots, without guidance from a computer or programmer. These healing materials are known as "Janus Particles."

Taking Silicon to a New Level

The self-healing devices used by Carnegie Mellon are made from a silicon-based material that forms a hub for multiple connections. The researchers created a metal alloy based on integrating silicon rubber with micron-sized droplets of a gallium-indium alloy. While this alloy turns to liquid at room temperature, it provides conductivity.

When the droplets are broken from external pressure, the droplets interact with each other, creating conductivity within a circuit. If the material is damaged the droplets near the damage burst, which forms a new path for electrons around this zone. The material is flexible and can be stretched without disrupting conductivity.

New Applications for Self-Healing Circuits

One of the big advantages to using the combination of silicon and nanocircuitry is that it's inexpensive. Due to the material's flexibility, it can be used for numerous applications beyond wearable electronics. The material, for example, can be used as a skin for robots. Another area in which self-healing electronics technology could be useful is bendable electronics. Eventually, this concept can lead to a wide variety of electronic components that fix multiple issues within a circuit.

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