Carmel Majidi: Self-Healing Electrical Material

I’m very excited to tell you about this self-healing
material that my group has developed. This has been reported recently in the journal
Nature Materials. And what we’ve shown is a soft, stretchable,
electrically-conductive material that has this extraordinary ability to repair its electrical
functionality when it’s been mechanically damaged. So, when you, say, cut regular wiring or you
puncture it or you fracture it, you immediately lose that electrical functionality. In contrast, our material has this ability
to maintain its electrical functionality even when it’s been mechanically damaged. Instantaneously, what the material does is
create new electrical pathways around that damaged area. So, none of the digital circuit functionality
is disrupted during operation. And this could have important applications
in areas like wearable computing, where you want circuits that you can incorporate into
textiles or place on your skin. And just like natural skin, if you get bruised
or cut, your skin is able to repair itself. Our material also has this property that it
can instantaneously restore that electrical functionality so that you don’t lose the ability
to continue operating that wearable computing device. Same goes for next generation soft machines
and soft robotics systems. Just like a natural organism, if it gets harmed
or damaged, it has the ability to repair itself and move to an area of safety, so it has greater
time to recover. For this study we used a Cricut, which is
a commercial pen-plotter. We’ve replaced the cutter on the Cricut with
a mechanical scribe that will go and create these electrically conductive pathways into
our soft material. It’s really important within this field that
we’re able to match the same types of electronic properties and functionality that we get with
more conventional wiring. Electrical wiring for computing, personal
electronics, data transmission, building wiring, those applications aren’t going away. So it is very important that we engineer these
next generation soft, conductive materials, so they still have this electrical performance. In the work that we’ve done, it was very important
that we demonstrate the ability to operate, say, a digital clock that can remain functional
using this soft, conductive material. We can also show that in contrast to conventional
circuit wiring, that this clock circuit remains functional, even as we start tearing, cutting,
removing this material. Carnegie Mellon is the place where we push
scientific boundaries in robotics, human-machine interaction, and materials research, so it’s
really important that we’re able to make breakthroughs at this intersection so that we can accelerate
progress that has transformative impact on society.

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