Liquid metal beads can automagically repair electronic circuits

By on December 21, 2011, 5:38 PM

In an age of highly integrated systems, it's become more practical for consumers to discard faulty devices than repair them. Often times, you can't fix a component on the fritz and even if you could, it wouldn't be cost-effective. That's exacerbated when the component is only a small part of an embedded system. A single defective circuit could prompt you to replace your smartphone, tablet or notebook.

A team of engineers at the University of Illinois has found an approach to self-repairing circuits  that could drastically reduce the waste of modern electronics. "It simplifies the system," explained chemistry professor Jeffrey Moore, a co-author of the paper. "Rather than having to build in redundancies or to build in a sensory diagnostics system, this material is designed to take care of the problem itself."

Although it seems like science fiction, the technology sounds simple: A bunch of 10-micron microcapsules of liquid metal (a gallium-indium alloy) are placed along a circuit. If the circuit cracks, the microcapsules rupture and the metal quickly fills the gap, instantly restoring up to 99% conductivity. The technology isn't perfect yet, but it works about 90% of the time -- good enough for us to be excited.

Naturally, companies want you to replace your iGadget with relative frequency, so we're not sure how quickly this technology will be adopted in the consumer segment. However, the self-healing solution would probably face less opposition if it were used in consumer safety, industrial or military applications -- namely automobiles, airplanes, missiles, satellites and other critical systems.




User Comments: 10

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Rasta211 said:

Remember those Star Trek episodes where they shine a light from some small gadget on some circuit boards and are supposedly repairing the damage, well I guess this is sort of like that.

raybay said:

Science Fix tion... Don't expect to fix a lot of these on your card table workbench at home.

Guest said:

I have fixed many of my electronics....from my old cellphone to my ps3.

In both cases I used a heat gun to heat up the circuit board and that melts most the the metal (faulty connections) and it re-solders the joints/connections. Fixing my own stuff has saved me hundreds of dollars.

Tekkaraiden Tekkaraiden said:

I'm curious how this would work with the inside layers of multilayer boards.

Guest said:

very naice how much?

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

I have fixed many of my electronics....from my old cellphone to my ps3.

In both cases I used a heat gun to heat up the circuit board and that melts most the the metal (faulty connections) and it re-solders the joints/connections. Fixing my own stuff has saved me hundreds of dollars.

Good for you! Keep up your good work.

For the rest of us mortals that have no idea about electronics or electrics for that matter have to cope with the idea of wasting precious money into saving our existing pieces of crap.

MilwaukeeMike said:

And since it's liquid, it works great until you turn the device upside down and it all runs off, right?

TorturedChaos, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Guest said:

I have fixed many of my electronics....from my old cellphone to my ps3.

In both cases I used a heat gun to heat up the circuit board and that melts most the the metal (faulty connections) and it re-solders the joints/connections. Fixing my own stuff has saved me hundreds of dollars.

I have read you can fix some graphics cards (specifically it was the geforce 8800 and 9800 series) by running them through the oven at ~400 F for a few minutes and accomplish the same thing. I have a 9800GT I have been meaning to do that with.

Kibaruk Kibaruk, TechSpot Paladin, said:

milwaukeemike said:

And since it's liquid, it works great until you turn the device upside down and it all runs off, right?

Are you kidding me? when the beads are broken the liquid comes out, things that are made to be vertical or horizontal or whichever way they are made are made that way for a reason, this would be hard proof of that, if it breaks while turned upside down it is a small micro bead. How much liquid could come out of it? No idea

treetops treetops said:

Resistance is futile.

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