Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a first-of-its-kind self-healing gel that repairs and connects electronic circuits, paving the way for the development of flexible electronics. The new "supergel" material has high conductivity and strong mechanical and electrical self-healing properties.
Although technology is moving toward lighter and foldable electronics, the existing circuits that power them are not built to flex freely and repeatedly self-repair cracks or breaks that can happen from normal wear and tear.
Until now, self-healing materials have relied on application of external stimuli such as light or heat to activate repair. "In the last decade, the self-healing concept has been popularised by people working on different applications, but this is the first time it has been done without external stimuli," said Guihua Yu, who developed the gel.
"There is no need for heat or light to fix the crack or break in a circuit or battery, which is often required by previously developed self-healing materials," Yu explained. Yu and his team created the self-healing gel by combining two gels: a self-assembling metal-ligand gel that provides self-healing properties and a polymer hydrogel that is a conductor.
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A To construct the self-healing electronic circuit, Yu believes the self-healing gel would not replace the typical metal conductors that transport electricity, but it could be used as a soft joint, joining other parts of the circuit. "This gel can be applied at the circuit's junction points because that's often where you see the breakage," he said. The findings were described in a paper in the journal Nano Letters.