Repair-and-go method ‘can extend the life of any device’

Researchers are developing a ‘repair-and-go’ method for small surface cracks on any digital device.

Inspired by the ability of white blood cells in the body to heal wounds on-site, the method would employ microcapsules filled with a solution of nanoparticles.

‘Anything that’s a machine with a surface is affected by these small-scale cracks,’ said project lead professor Anna Balazs from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. ‘These are surfaces that play a role in almost anything, especially functionality.’

The team first came up with a theoretical repair-and-go method: a flexible microcapsule filled with a solution of nanoparticles would be applied to a damaged surface; it would then repair defects by releasing nanoparticles into them.

Using nanoparticles and droplets of oil stabilised with a polymer surfactant — compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid — the team demonstrated the theory, showing that these microcapsules found the cracks and delivered the nanoparticle contents into them.

Balazs proposes that manufacturers use this method as a last step in the building process to negate nanoscale scratches, which might cause the device as a whole to malfunction.

‘The repair-and-go method can extend the lifetime of any system or device,’ she said. ‘Additionally, it could be used as a repair method after a crack has been found.’