Self-healing circuit at work  (Source: university if Illinois)
Tiny capsules of liquid metal keep things chugging along

There are numerous reasons why a circuit inside a gadget or electronic device might break. The result of a broken circuit inside a device is generally the device won't function properly or won't work at all. A team of researchers at the University of Illinois has discovered a cool and seemingly easy way to allow the damaged circuit to repair itself before the user knows there is a problem.
The researchers include Scott White, an aerospace engineering professor, Nancy Sottos, a materials science and engineering professor, and Jeffrey Moore, a chemistry professor. The team have taken a normal circuit and placed tiny capsules along its length that are about ten microns in size. Inside those little capsules is a liquid metal. When the circuit breaks, the capsules do too. The liquid metal then leaks out into the crack and the circuit is healed in microseconds. The repaired circuit has 99% of the conductivity of the original.
“It [the liquid metal polymer capsules] simplifies the system,” said chemistry professor Jeffrey Moore, a co-author of the paper. “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.” 
The idea of the self-healing capsules is for repairs in circuits that are hard to access for normal repairs. The researchers see potential for the self-healing circuits in aviation and spacecraft. The material may have used in automotive applications too. Hints have been dropped at self-healing properties similar to this for paint on vehicles in other research. This sort of self-repair would also be a great help for flexible electronic devices that are prone to have circuits break over time. 
"In general there’s not much avenue for manual repair,” Sottos said. “Sometimes you just can’t get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there’s no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It’s true for a battery too. You can’t pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure."
In the past, the team developed a similar system for polymer materials repair and then adapted that system for conductive systems. “What’s really cool about this paper is it’s the first example of taking the microcapsule-based healing approach and applying it to a new function,” White said. “Everything prior to this has been on structural repair. This is on conductivity restoration. It shows the concept translates to other things as well.”


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