Electronics by their very nature tend to be fragile devices; if a contact is broken, electricity can not get where it needs to go, and the device may function incorrectly or perhaps not even function at all. In contrast, the human body has evolved to accept all sorts of impacts and insults, and still keep on ticking. And it can even repair some forms of damage. As we develop sensors and other wearable Health Tech devices, especially for critical health and medical applications, wouldn’t it be great if they could be more durable just like the human body?
Researchers at the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin may have part of the solution. The photo above shows a small rectangle of a self-healing conductive gel. What makes it impressive is that before the photo was taken, it was two separate pieces of gel. The sample is actually made up of two separate materials. A polymer gel provides the electrical conductivity, while a metal-ligand gel provides the self-assembly feature. Combined, the material is able to seal cracks and breaks.
This is an important step for bendable and rollable electronic devices. Many conductive materials — including metal — get fatigued from repeated bending, which can result in cracks and other failures. This material could act as a soft joint for circuits that are exposed to bending forces, increasing the reliability of flexible electronics for wearable devices.