Self-healing is a fascinating, natural characteristic that we see most animals use for survival. In the field of technology, professors Lining Yao and Mohammad Islam applied this concept in their development of a cutting-edge self-healing technology that helps design electrical devices capable of being rearranged.

Self-healing Technology Bends Without Breaking

Previous self-healing materials depended on reagents, which flows to repair the areas cut from the material. However, the team worked on a new self-healing technology that can also allow devices to self-assemble and self-actuate without the material losing its shape.

Islam relates this to LEGO pieces that you see some kids use to build many things. It does not flow when you cut it. Instead, it maintains its shape as it self-heals. It became possible to construct new devices as standard models to cut into desired shapes for your use.

This new hybrid material from Carnegie Mellon University is composed of two materials:

  • a self-healing polymer called Polyborosiloxane (PBS)
  • Multiwalled Carbon Nanotubes (MWCNTs) which allows the potential for electricity

The devices can regain functionality or achieve a new functionality after you cut them. When you put the pieces back together, they reconnect, and the hem between them eventually smoothens out.

It is possible to cut them in the middle to make actuators that you can bend 180 degrees into “S” shapes. Because the material is still functional after you cut them, it is possible to create sensors or other electrical equipment like:

  • polymer cast which can seal itself around a person’s broken arm and potentially speed up healing
  • pneumatic actuators which you can cut into different shapes

The researchers devised soft controllers that respond to a finger press to demonstrate the new self-healing material’s function. Once you connect two of these controllers lengthwise, it makes a keyboard. Moreover, once you wrap it around your wrist, you can create a slider device.

Yao added that once you cut this into four pieces, each will respond to your finger, and the parts can heal back together and reconnect to form the two primary controllers.

Limitations of the Material and Future Improvements

Islam also mentioned some limitations to the material’s ability to rearrange pieces of electrical equipment. According to him, though you can reshape the material, rewiring electrical devices is not possible. However, there is a possibility to devise redundant circuits inside the equipment for you to customize more.

Today Islam and Yao are working on more implementations for their self-healing medium. They shared their new material and the devices they came up with at a symposium in New Orleans. They plan to apply the concept to more intelligent interfaces and go beyond people’s imaginations.

Their exposure inspired a Ph.D. student from Tokyo, Koya Narumi, and an engineering student named Fang Qin, who also conducted their study. Islam then emphasized that they can strengthen their research by collaborating and involving more researchers from other fields. Together with Lining’s professional skills in designing systems, they can improve this self-healing technology.


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