As electronics grow ever more intricate, so must the tools required to fix them. Anticipating this challenge, scientists turned to the body's immune system for inspiration and have now built self-propelled nanomotors that can seek out and repair tiny scratches to electronic systems. They could one day lead to flexible batteries, electrodes, solar cells and other gadgets that heal themselves.
Ref: Self-Propelled Nanomotors Autonomously Seek and Repair Cracks. Nano Letters (18 September 2015) | DOI: 10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b03140
Biological self-healing involves the autonomous localization of healing agents at the site of damage. Herein, we design and characterize a synthetic repair system where self-propelled nanomotors autonomously seek and localize at microscopic cracks and thus mimic salient features of biological wound healing. We demonstrate that these chemically powered catalytic nanomotors, composed of conductive Au/Pt spherical Janus particles, can autonomously detect and repair microscopic mechanical defects to restore the electrical conductivity of broken electronic pathways. This repair mechanism capitalizes on energetic wells and obstacles formed by surface cracks, which dramatically alter the nanomotor dynamics and trigger their localization at the defects. By developing models for self-propelled Janus nanomotors on a cracked surface, we simulate the systems' dynamics over a range of particle speeds and densities to verify the process by which the nanomotors autonomously localize and accumulate at the cracks. We take advantage of this localization to demonstrate that the nanomotors can form conductive "patches" to repair scratched electrodes and restore the conductive pathway. Such a nanomotor-based repair system represents an important step toward the realization of biomimetic nanosystems that can autonomously sense and respond to environmental changes, a development that potentially can be expanded to a wide range of applications, from self-healing electronics to targeted drug delivery.