When electronic components bite the dust, there’s very little you can do. Unlike a leaky pipe or broken piece of plastic, it’s not like you can tear off a piece of duct tape and fix a cracked or failed microchip. Best case scenario is you replace it, but if it’s an integrated part or a discontinued chip, you might have to replace the whole device. Bummer. But what if a chip could heal itself?

It sounds like science fiction, but a team of engineers at the University of Illinois claim they’ve “developed a self-healing system that restores electrical conductivity to a cracked circuit in less time than it takes to blink.”

This is an important development as chips are being ask to perform more sophisticated tasks, which in turn requires packing more density into these slices of silicon. Density compounds can lead to a number of problems, including failure from fluctuating temperature cycles and fatigue, the research team notes.

“In general there’s not much avenue for manual repair,” said Nancy Sottos, a materials science and engineering professor. “Sometimes you just can’t get to the inside. In a multilayer integrated circuit, there’s no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip. It’s true for a battery too. You can’t pull a battery apart and try to find the source of the failure.”

The Illinois team came up with an end-around solution. They’re using self-healing polymer materials consisting of tiny microcapsules on top of a gold line functioning as a circuit. If there’s a crack, the microcapsules bust open and release liquid metal, filling in the gap in the circuit and restoring electrical flow.

Sounds good in theory, and in practice, the team demonstrated the self-healing technique restoring 90 percent of their samples to 99 percent of their original conductivity.

Image Credit: Scott White, University of Illinois

Original Post by Brad Chacos, Reposted Courtesy of Maximum PC – Covering everything from hi-end gaming PCs to tablets, peripherals and home theater rigs, Maximum PC’s print and Web editions stay one step ahead of the fast-changing world of everything computer and computing related. Whether its the latest on building your own desktop system, reviews of the latest laptops and accessories, or roundups of the games and software that make your machine go, Maximum PC brings it to you with news, reviews, and years of expertise. TechnoBuffalo is thrilled to bring you the best of Maximum PC right here on our own pages to keep you immersed in all things digital.