Self-healing electronic device repairs itself when broken by utilizing a magnetic ink to bridge gaps as wide as three millimeters

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego have developed
a self-healing electronic device that can repair itself when broken by
utilizing a special magnetic ink, bridging gaps as wide as 3 mm. The breakthrough
works much faster than other self-healing materials while requiring no external
input to carry out the job. Now, scientists are looking to use the technology
in a variety of ways, including in batteries and sensors for wearables. 


The technology can be used in a variety of ways, including
in electrical circuits embedded in clothing, since they’re crafted using
microscopic magnetic particles that are molded into conductive materials such
as graphite, gold, and silver.

To create the material, the team used magnetic
micro-particles of neodymium, which is a cheap, conductive metal known for its
particles’ large magnetic fields, which allows them to attract each other over
a gap of a few millimeters. Because the particles had poor electrochemical properties, the scientists added carbon black to the mix,
which is a material
produced by the incomplete combustion of heavy petroleum products,
typically used in devices such as sensors and batteries. This addition
is what gave the ink its self-healing properties.

But, the team realized the microparticles’ magnetic fields, when in their natural configuration, canceled each other out, robbing them of their healing properties. Engineers solved this problem by printing the ink in the presence of an external magnetic field, ensuring the particles oriented themselves to act as a permanent magnet with two opposite poles at the end of each printed device. When the device is cut, the two damaged pieces act as different magnets that attract each other and self-heal.

prove itself, the seemingly magical ink was put on the spot when the
researchers cut through a shirt entailing a self-healing circuit along with a
LED light and battery. Impressively, the circuit repaired itself within a few
seconds with the LED switching on again as if nothing ever happened.

Although there are issues, such as a clear scar left behind by the tears and the magnetic field
interfering with other devices, the technology is, without a doubt, an
impressive modern day technology.

According to the researchers, any damage can be repaired
within about 50 milliseconds. The ink can also pull devices back together, even
if they’re repeatedly damaged from the same place. In the future, engineers envision making different inks with a variety of ingredients for a wide range of applications. The team also plans to develop computer simulations to test different self-healing ink recipes before trying them out in the lab.

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Source: University of California, San Diego