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Environment & Science

The future is now: reducing e-waste with self-repairing electronics


On the verge of 2012, it’s easy to bemoan all the science fiction promises of the past that have yet to hit the general market: jet-packs, transporters, good General Tsao’s Chicken in Los Angeles — the list is endless.

What we did get where those fancy “communicators” that Mr. Spock used to talk to Captain Kirk on Star Trek, only we call them cell phones. It’s a technology we obviously can’t get enough of, with the endless variations of phones, tablets and other communication devices on the market.

The substantial and perpetually growing downside, though, are the landfills swelling with broken devices, many dead before their time. Which is where a team of scientists at the University of Illinois come in with a fix straight from the pages of a sci-fi novel.

With the idea being that a single burned-out circuit often fells devices, the team dreamed up a function that would both pinpoint and repair these failed conduits before we even realized that it happened.

The ingenious system utilizes tiny microcapsules placed along all circuits. When a circuit breaks, it causes the microcapsules to open and release liquid metal that fills and repairs the circuit instantaneously.

Published in Advanced Materials, the team has plans to continue their research for applications to batteries and even spacecrafts.