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Self-Healing Integrated Circuit Material Developed

Vascular materials research team (Univ. of Illinois)

Researchers (L-R) Nancy Sottos, Scott White and Jeff Moore (L. Brian Stauffer, Univ. of Illinois)

A team of University of Illinois researchers in Champaign has developed a self-healing process that restores electrical conductivity to a cracked circuit in barely an instant. Illinois engineering professor Scott White, materials science professor Nancy Sottos, chemistry professor Jeffrey Moore, and colleagues published their findings online in the journal Advanced Materials (paid subscription required).

Electronic devices are performing more sophisticated tasks, which call for packing as much density onto a chip as possible. The added density, however, adds to the devices’ reliability problems, such as failure from fluctuating operating temperatures or fatigue. A failure at any point in the circuit can shut down the whole device.

The Illinois team applied their experience in self-healing polymers to electrical systems, developing technology that could extend the longevity of electronic devices and batteries. The researchers distributed tiny microcapsules, as small as 10 microns in diameter — one micron equals one millionth of a meter — on top of a gold line functioning as a circuit.

As a crack propagates through the material, the microcapsules break open and release the liquid metal contained inside. The liquid metal fills in the gap in the circuit, restoring electrical flow.

The researchers found that a failure interrupts the current for mere microseconds as the liquid metal immediately fills the crack. They demonstrated that 90 percent of their samples healed up to 99 percent of the original conductivity, even with a small amount of the microcapsules.

Many consumer electronic devices are designed to be replaced frequently, which adds to electronic waste. In many industrial or military important applications, however, electrical failures cannot be replaced or repaired.

In addition, a self-healing capability simplifies the design of electronic devices. “Rather than having to build in redundancies or to build in a sensory diagnostics system,” says Moore, “this material is designed to take care of the problem itself.”

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