Can Self-Healing Electronics Extend E-Gear's Service Life?

The University of Illinois has had a strong focus on e-waste through its Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI). Now, researchers at the University are experimenting with a technique that would enable electronic circuits to repair themselves. This holds the promise of longer service lives and therefore less e-waste. Here are excerpts from "Autonomic Restoration of Electrical Conductivity" in Advanced Materials.

Thermomechanical failure of conductive pathways in highly integrated circuits results in loss of function that is often impossible to repair and remains a long-standing problem hindering advanced electronic packaging…Here, we demonstrate autonomic healing of an electrical circuit with nearly full recovery of conductance (ca. 99%) less than one millisecond after damage.

Healing is accomplished by the release and transport of a microencapsulated conductive material to the site of damage…a) The self-healing circuit consists of microencapsulated liquid metal dispersed in a dielectric material and deposited on a conductive line. b) Crack damage breaks the conductive pathway, interrupting electron transport and simultaneously rupturing the capsules. c) The liquid metal flows from the capsules to the area of damage, restoring a conductive pathway.

Self-healing circuits will lead to increased longevity and device reliability in adverse mechanical environments, enabling new applications in microelectronics, advanced batteries, and electrical systems. Beyond self-repairing devices, we envision the concepts described here could enable microelectronics that generate new circuits along stress-activated pathways, allowing for adaptive circuit architecture and improved circuit redundancy.