Self-healable, recyclable "electronic skin" developed by University of Colorado Boulder Researchers

Self-healable, recyclable "electronic skin" developed by University of Colorado Boulder Researchers

Researchers at University of Colorado Boulder have developed an electronic skin that can be recycled and it can also heal itself. The ‘electronic skin’ is actually a thin film with advanced sensors. With use of thin, translucent material and advanced sensors, the electronic skin can measure pressure, temperature, humidity, and air flow, working similar to human skin. UC Boulder research team has used covalently bonded dynamic network polymer, known as polyimine for developing the skin.

Polyimine has been laced with silver nanoparticles. When the skin is cut into two, the electronic skin self heals by recreating chemical bonds between two pieces. The material can be recycled easily. If e-skin suffers major damage that can’t be self-repaired, it can be soaked in a solution that “liquefies” it so that the materials can be reused to make new e-skin.

Xiao Jianliang, assistant professor from University of Colorado Boulder led the current study. Professor Jianliang said, "What is unique here is that the chemical bonding of polyimine we use allows the e-skin to be both self-healing and fully recyclable at room temperature."

To recycle the skin, the device is soaked into recycling solution, making the polymers degrade into oligomers, polymers with polymerization degree usually below 10, and monomers, small molecules that can be joined together into polymers, both of which are soluble in ethanol. The silver nanoparticles sink to the bottom of the solution.

Research team further informed, “Given the millions of tons of electronic waste generated worldwide every year, the recyclability of our e-skin makes good economic and environmental sense.”

Discussing application of skin in robotics, Wei Zhang from the University of Colorado Boulder said, "Let's say you wanted a robot to take care of a baby. In that case you would integrate e-skin on the robot fingers that can feel the pressure of the baby. The idea is to try and mimic biological skin with e-skin that has desired functions."