One of the problems with standard electronics is that the circuits inside aren't really built to deal with the kind of wear and tear the future of the medium intends to put on them. Most things degrade with enough use, of course, but trying to fold or roll electronic circuits, for example, speeds up that process.
The solution? Circuits that heal themselves when they break.
Guihua Yu, a mechanical engineering assistant professor at the University of Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering, and his team have created a self-healing gel that's reportedly the first of its kind: it doesn't require heat or light to function, which is kind of a big deal when it comes to self-healing applications.
"In the last decade," says Yu in a quote at Phys.org, "the self-healing concept has been popularized by people working on different applications, but this is the first time it has been done without external stimuli." This time, the thing can actually self-heal all on its own.
In two separate papers in the scientific journal Nano Letters, Yu and his team describe the gel and its properties as well as how they created it. First and foremost, it's actually a combination of two other gels: one that supplies the self-healing properties and another that's a conductor, making the mix a perfect match for electronic circuits. It has a molecular framework that basically uses zinc atoms for glue while also maintaining major conductivity — around 10 times that found in comparable gels.
Even so, it's not going to replace every single electronic circuit out there. Instead, Yu sees the gel being used to strengthen junction points where circuits are more likely to break — making those much more difficult to destroy thanks to the self-healing conductive gel. It could also eventually see medical applications — where long-serving rugged electronic circuits are important — and use with batteries.