It's an invention that could help address the world's massive electronic waste problem.
Today, consumer electronics are disposable: if your laptop breaks, a component is replaced, not repaired. But a new development from University of Illinois researchers allows electronics to restore electrical conductivity when a circuit breaks -- instantly.
As we all know, electricity is a system of circuits: when one breaks, the system goes down like a cheap string of holiday lights. (Cue National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation reference here.) But what if the system could repair itself?
Aerospace engineering professor Scott White and materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos developed a system that eliminates the need for redundant circuitry or monitoring systems using special polymers.
In the lab, researchers distributed microcapsules containing liquid metal, as small as 10 microns in diameter, on top of a gold line functioning as a circuit. When a crack occurs, the microcapsules break open and release the liquid metal contained inside, which fills the circuit gap and restores electrical flow.
According to the researchers' tests, 90 percent of their samples healed to 99 percent of original conductivity.
As electronics become ever more dense and impossible to repair, a built in safety net like this could help extend the life of electronic equipment -- or at least provide instant backup during a critical moment.
When you're talking about a laptop battery, it could be a potential explosion avoided. When you're talking about a device like a spacecraft, it could be the difference between life and death.
Their research was published in the journal Advanced Materials.