Magnetic ink to make 3D printed, self-healing electronics a reality

A new magnetic ink has been developed that will be capable of being used to create self-healing batteries, electrochemical sensors and wearable, textile-based electrical circuits. The ink has already shown to repair more damage and at a quicker speed than current self-healing systems.

Developed by a team of engineers at the University of California San Diego, the ink’s key ingredient is microparticles that are oriented in a certain configuration by a magnetic field.

Because of the orientation of these particles, any tear in a device printed with the ink will self-heal as particles on both sides of the tear are magnetically attracted to one another.

The ink has already set records by repairing tears as wide as 3mm, a new high in the field of self-healing systems.

“Our work holds considerable promise for widespread practical applications for long-lasting printed electronic devices,” said Joseph Wang, director of the Center for Wearable Sensors and chair of the nanoengineering department at UC San Diego.

A demonstration of the magnetic ink, which was printed as a self-healing circuit onto a t-shirt, before being cut and repairing itself. Image courtesy of Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

A demonstration of the magnetic ink, which was printed as a self-healing circuit onto a t-shirt, before being cut and repairing itself

In addition to the extent of damage the ink allows devices to repair, it is also notable for its ability to do so without any outside catalyst.

Existing systems require external triggers to begin the healing process, and can take anywhere between a few minutes to several days to do so. By contrast, the new system requires no external trigger and repairs damage within roughly 50 milliseconds.

The engineers tested their system by printing batteries, electrochemical sensors and wearable, textile-based electrical circuits that they then set about damaging by cutting them and pulling them apart to create increasingly wide gaps. The devices were damaged nine times at the same location, as well as having damage inflicted in four different places on the same device.

Despite the extensive and repeated damage, the devices continued to heal themselves and recover function, losing only a minimal amount of conductivity.

For example, a self-healing circuit was printed on the sleeve of a T-shirt and connected to an LED light and a coin battery. The circuit and the fabric it was printed on were then cut, resulting in the LED turning off. Within a few seconds, however, it started turning back on as the two sides of the circuit came together and healed.

A second demonstation of the ink's healing capabilities. Image courtesy of Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

A second demonstration of the ink’s healing capabilities. Image courtesy of Jacobs School of Engineering/UC San Diego

“We wanted to develop a smart system with impressive self-healing abilities with easy-to-find, inexpensive materials,” said Amay Bandodkar, one of the papers’ first authors, who earned his Ph.D. in Wang’s lab and is now a postdoctoral researcher at Northwestern University.

The engineers envision that, in the future, they will be able to expand the range of applications for the ink by making use of different variations with different ingredients.

Additionally, they plan to test different self-healing ink recipes in silicon through computer simulations, before taking them for lab testing.

60% of primate species threatened with extinction

A new study has called for urgent action to protect the world’s rapidly dwindling primate populations after figures revealed that 60% of the world’s primate species are threatened with extinction. There are over 500 currently recognised primate species, with the percentage considered at risk having increased by 20% since 1996.

The study draws attention to the incredible impact that humans have placed on primate environments. Agriculture, logging, construction, resource extraction and other human activities have all placed escalating and unsustainable pressure on the animals’ habitats, and are predicted to only worsen over the next 50 years.

Unless immediate action is taken, the scientists predict numerous extinctions.

“In 1996 around 40% of the then recognised primate taxa were threatened. The increase to 60% at present is extremely worrying and indicates that more conservation efforts are needed to halt this increase,” says Serge Wich, professor by special appointment of Conservation of the Great Apes at the University of Amsterdam.

Interestingly, one of the main suggestions for helping the primates is first helping humans. Most primates live in regions characterised by high levels of poverty and inequality, a fact that the study authors believe leads to greater hunting and habitat loss.

They suggest that immediate actions should be taken to improve health and access to education, develop sustainable land-use initiatives, and preserve traditional livelihoods that can contribute to food security and environmental conservation.

While it may be tragic to some, it could be easy to see the loss of these primates as unimportant to humans. However, it is important to note that the non-human primates’ biological relation to humans offers unique insights into human evolution, biology, behaviour and the threat of emerging diseases.

Additionally, these species serve as key components of tropical biodiversity and contribute to forest regeneration and ecosystem health. If they are struck by mass extinction, it is hard to predict the impact it could have on their ecosystems.

“‘If we are unable to reduce the impact of our activities on primates, it is difficult to foresee how we will maintain this fantastic diversity of our closest relatives in the near future,” added Wich. “That will not only be a great loss from a scientific point of view, but will also have a negative influence on the ecosystems that we all rely so much upon. It is therefore important to drastically change from the business as usual scenarios to more sustainable ones.”

The threat posed to delicate ecosystems by human expansion is nothing new, but it is perhaps shocking to have such a blunt figure out there as to the damage being caused.

More than half of these species – species that are far closer to us than we may be comfortable discussing – could die unless current policy is reversed.

The study’s authors have called on authorities across the world to take action and raise awareness of the issues raised.

The article itself is published in the latest edition of the journal Science Advances.

Mark Zuckerberg: VR goal is still 5-10 years away

Mark Zuzkerberg has said that the true goal of virtual reality could still be a decade away, in a testimony during a high-profile court case against his company.

Facebook, as owner of Oculus, is currently in the middle of being sued by ZeniMax Media for allegedly stealing technology for the virtual reality device. If proved guilty, they will be pursued for the amount of $2bn by ZeniMax.  However, perhaps more pertinent to the actual future of virtual reality are comments arising from Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony.

As it currently stands, virtual reality is still a far cry from being integrated into everyday life on a wide scale. Oculus, HTC Vive and Playstation VR are still largely targeting gamers and the idea of entertainment experiences. While they have found varying levels of success, all three platforms are being held back by the youth of the technology and, in the case of Vive and Oculus, the limited by the need for a high performing computer to plug into.

Image and featured image courtesy of Oculus

“I don’t think that good virtual reality is fully there yet,” said Zuckerberg. “It’s going to take five or 10 more years of development before we get to where we all want to go.”

The revelation isn’t a particularly shocking one; even the most ardent believer in virtual reality has to admit that we’re a fair way off the goal. Indeed, we can be seen as being in the first wave of mainstream virtual reality, with the main players in the tech using gaming as a way to introduce the technology to a group that are most likely to be interested from the off.

Zuckerberg has far grander plans than simply expanding the user base however, as seen with projects such as Facebook Social VR. If games are the entry, the idea is to expand virtual reality to become a whole new computing platform used for a bevy of experiences and containing a whole load of tools. The ambition is high, the reality slightly lagging behind.

Mark Zuckerberg with Priscilla Chan in 2016

When asked about the realisation of VR as this new computing platform, Zuckerberg replied: “These things end up being more complex than you think up front. If anything, we may have to invest even more money to get to the goals we had than we had thought up front.”

He then went on to add that the probable investment for Facebook to reach that goal is likely to top the $3bn mark over the next ten years. Considering the social media giant spent $2bn just to acquire Oculus, this represents a truly colossal investment in something that seemed to be initially set to hit a lot sooner. Admittedly the goal is rather grand: providing hundreds of millions of people with a good virtual reality experience transcending gaming alone.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, it’s very important that you know that Mark Zuckerberg did in fact wear a suit to trial. Whether Palmer Luckey, making his first public appearance since his Gamergate/Trump support scandal last year, will manage to ditch the flip flops when he testifies is yet to be seen.