Microcapsules quickly fix nanoscale cracks

U. PITTSBURGH (US) — Researchers propose a “repair-and-go” approach to fixing malfunctions caused by small surface cracks on any digital device or part before it hits store shelves.

Although some scratches on digital devices are easy to see and repair, researchers have addressed hard-to-pinpoint nanoscale scratches, which can cause the device as a whole to malfunction. Findings are published in Nature Nanotechnology.

“Anything that’s a machine with a surface is affected by these small-scale cracks,” says Anna Balazs, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the University of Pittsburgh and co-investigator on the project. “These are surfaces that play a role in almost anything, especially functionality.”


The research team’s approach was inspired by the ability of white blood cells in the body to heal wounds on-site.

Balazs and colleagues 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 stabilized with a polymer surfactant—compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid—researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst actualized 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.

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

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