In a development that could reshape how homes are built and repaired, a team from North Carolina State University announced that it is in the testing phase of a new wiring product that is capable of both extreme elasticity and, in the event of a break, rejuvenation.
The wires contain so-called microfluidic channels, which, according to a press release from the college, are then filled with a mixture of indium and gallium. These metallic alloys are protected by an elastic sheath that maintains the liquid nature of the compounds inside. Because of this, the wires are both more flexible and capable of stretching.
The most intriguing aspect of the project is the oxidation process that takes place if the wire is cut. A “skin,” the team stated in the release, forms around the damaged part of the wire to prevent the alloys from leaking out. Maintenance is as simple as placing the two ends back together as the molecular structure of the wire sheath re-connects itself.
Dr. Michael Dickey, an assistant professor at the university who helped write a study focusing on the new wiring, said that the sky is the limit in terms of how the new design could be used. Additionally, he stated that existing circuits could be reconfigured with the product relatively easily, suggesting that older homes could greatly benefit from this technology.
“Because we’re using liquid metal, these wires have excellent conductive properties,” Dickey said. “And because the wires are also elastic and self-healing, they have a lot of potential for use in technologies that could be exposed to high-stress environments.”
While it might be some time before we see the next generation of wires at the local hardware store, this useful innovation is sure to be utilized in households around the country in the near future.