Yes you read that right! We now have flexible, self healing electronics that heal themselves after undergoing physical duress.
Flexible electronics, or flex circuits, have been around for a while now. The interest and curiosity to make flexible electronics has been alive since the 1950s. In the 2000s, scientists and engineers began to experiment with precision manufacture of flexible electronics. One of the first few people to suggest this possibility is Dr. Enrique Gomez, an assistant professor of chemical engineering at Pennsylvania State University, USA.
The idea of flexible electronics became popular for two important reasons. First, from a cost perspective, since convectional semiconductors require complex manufacturing process and multi-billion dollar investments. Researchers hope to print flexible electronics on plastic film the same way we print ink on newspapers. Second, it was really the advent of flexible electronics that enabled large-scale commercializing (perhaps a little over-simplification too) of gadgets such as smart watches, reconfigurable antennas for cars, etc.
Of course, the contribution of flex circuits in medical science cannot be undermined in any way. In 2014, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland, successfully demonstrated a system that. Using a system of electrical and chemical stimulation, the rats – whose spinal cords had been completely severed – were able to once again move their hind limbs.
E-dura is named after after the dura mater, which is one of the layers of protective membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The researchers implanted the device into rats — it rests on the spinal cord, and delivers electric signals, as well as drugs, to the surrounding nerves, triggering them to fire impulses. In experiments, paralyzed rats that were implanted with the device regained the ability to walk, with some help. The next step is obviously trying it out on humans.
In May 2016, Dr. Qing Wang from Penn State, made a breakthrough in the field of flexible electronics. Wang and his team created a new electronic material that can heal all its functions automatically even after breaking multiple times!
“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,” says professor Wang.
The material that Wang and his team created restores all properties needed for use as a dielectric in wearable electronics – mechanical strength, breakdown strength to protect against surges, electrical resistivity, thermal conductivity and dielectric, or insulating, properties. According to Dr. Wang, most self-healable materials are soft or “gum-like,” but the material he and his colleagues created is very tough in comparison. His team added boron nitride nanosheets to a base material of plastic polymer. Like graphene, boron nitride nanosheets are two dimensional, but instead of conducting electricity like graphene they resist and insulate against it.
This new development will be a huge boost in microelectronic manufacture. This material can also improve the durability of wearable electronics, which is the rage now. Unlike other healable materials, the boron-nitrate nanosheets used are unaffected by moisture, meaning it could also be used in high humidity environments like the shower. The restoration of multiple physical and chemical properties of this self healing material is indeed a quantum leap in electronic engineering. Even if we seem to be inundated with discoveries and inventions today, if I may say so! Watch this durability test video and tell me its not miraculous!