Self-healing electronics using carbon nanotube-filled microcapsules

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Self-healing first-aid kit for electrical systems

Dropping an electrical device such as a mobile phone or laptop can prompt a few anxious moments as you rush to see whether your beloved device has survived the fall. Now researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are working to make such incidents a little less distressing – they’re developing a self-healing first-aid kit for electrical systems that could stop circuits failing and lead to safer, longer lasting batteries.

The technology centers around microcapsules filled with carbon nanotubes. In much the same way that tiny liquid-filled capsules rupture to repair a scratch in the self-healing materials we’ve looked at previously, the microcapsules could be placed on failure-prone areas and would rupture to release conductive nanotubes, bridging a break when stress causes a crack in the circuit.

Paul Braun, a professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Illinois who is leading the research project, told Technology Review, “we want to address common failures in cell phones and other portable electronics.” He also predicts that the rate of these failures may increase with the rise of flexible electronics, which are subject to much more mechanical stress.

Self-healing circuits could lead to lighter, cheaper and more efficient devices, particularly in critical, hard-to-repair situations such as satellites or submarines.

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