Self-Healing Circuits Use Liquid Metal To Turn Electronics Into Superheroes

Researchers have been taking inspiration from X-Men: they've developed a way to create printed circuits that can heal themselves using liquid metal. The best bit is that, unlike X-Men, this is real.

So how the hell does it work? Essentially, the scientists have created tiny micro-capsules that contain liquid metal. When a printed circuit is made, a thin layer of these capsules can also be printed on top of the conventional strip of metal.

If a small crack forms in the printed circuit, usually that crack breaks the circuit. But with the micro-capsules in place, as the crack propagates some of the capsules are wrenched open, in turn releasing a small amount of liquid metal. That metal is enough to bridge the gap and keep the circuit working.

According to the researchers, it only takes microseconds for the micro-capsules to fill the gap when a crack appears. And most of the time, the circuits are repaired well enough to provide 99 per cent of the original conductivity.

Think of cars and airplanes that features hundreds or thousands of metres of circuitry — if faults could be fixed instantaneously there, that's a big deal.

But we're not just talking hard engineering here. In the home, technology like this could mean that minor faults in printed circuits, chips and even batteries could heal themselves. Imagine: No more junking electronics because of a tiny little fault. [University of Illinois via Engadget; Image: timsnell]