Electronic material ‘heals itself’, says team

A new electronic material created by a research team from Penn State University in the US and Harbin Institute of Technology in China is said to be capable of healing all its functions automatically, even after being broken multiple times. This material, the team contends, could improve the durability of wearable electronics.

“Wearable and bendable electronics are subject to mechanical deformation over time, which could destroy or break them,” said Penn State Professor Qing Wang. “We wanted to find an electronic material that would repair itself to restore all of its functionality and do so after multiple breaks.”

Previously, researchers have created materials that can restore one function after breaking. However, Prof Wang’s material is said to be able to restore all the properties needed for use as a dielectric in wearable electronics, such as mechanical strength, breakdown strength, electrical resistivity, thermal conductivity and dielectric properties.

“Most research into self healable electronic materials has focused on electrical conductivity, but dielectrics have been overlooked,” said Prof Wang. “We need conducting elements in circuits, but we also need insulation and protection for microelectronics.”

The material created by the team features boron nitride nanosheets in a plastic polymer. These nanosheets connect to one another via hydrogen bonding groups functionalised onto their surface. When two pieces are placed in close proximity, electrostatic attraction draws them together. When the hydrogen bond is restored, the two pieces are ‘healed’.

“This is the first time that a self healable material has been created that can restore multiple properties over multiple breaks and we see this being useful across many applications,” Prof Wang concluded.

Graham Pitcher

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