Self-propelled nanomotors that can seek out and repair tiny scratches to electronic systems have been developed by researchers.
The devices, developed by the American Chemical Society, could lead to flexible batteries, electrodes, solar cells and other gadgets that heal themselves.
The nanomotors are constructed from gold and platinum and are powered by hydrogen peroxide. The platinum causes the fuel to break down into water and oxygen, which propels the particles.
Testing showed that the nanomotors moved over the surface of a broken electronic circuit connected to a light-emitting diode.
When they approached a scratch, they became lodged in it and bridged the gap between the two sides. Because the particles are made of conductive metals, they allowed current to flow again, and the LED lit up.
"Electronic circuits are very sophisticated these days," says Jinxing Li who worked on the project.
"But a crack, even an extremely small one, can interrupt the flow of current and eventually lead to the failure of a device. Traditional electronics can be fixed with soldering, but repairing advanced electronics on a nanoscale requires innovation."
Li says the nanomotors would be ideal for hard-to-repair electronic components such as the conductive layer of solar cells, which are subject to harsh environmental conditions and prone to scratching. They could also be used to heal flexible sensors and batteries, which the lab is also developing.
Additionally, the same concept with different materials and fuels could be used in medical applications for delivering drugs to specific locations, the team believes.
The lab is also developing new nanomotors that could potentially be deployed in the body to treat different diseases, such as stomach infections.
Last year, researchers at the University of Alicante demonstrated a flexible polymeric material capable of self-repairing that could also be used for medical applications.