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Soumac’s WOW Blog: The future of self-healing liquid metal Gallium



Latest research has found ground-breaking capabilities of Gallium, a liquid metal that can bend, stretch and self-heal.

So in this blog, we’ll look at why scientists are getting so excited and how you might see Gallium being used in the future:

How does Gallium compare to existing metals?


Unlike most metals, Gallium (ga) flows like water and quickly forms a stiff outer oxide layer when it touches air.

This was originally considered an issue, but it’s now been recognised that it can easily be formed into semi-solid shapes and used for different purposes.

Flexible


Conventional metals can fatigue and break, the more it’s added to a soft material, the more inflexible it becomes.


Scientists have found that Gallium can stretch to 8 times its original length, without breaking and become twisted with little or no damage.


Low toxicity


Gallium has proven to be less toxic than Mercury and other liquid metals. Making it safer to handle, as well as more versatile and practical. Francium for example is radioactive, and Cesium and Rubidium are both explosively reactive and generally avoided.

Holds its shape

By having a low vapour pressure it means Gallium doesn't evaporate easily. The oxide layer allows Gallium to hold its shape and opens up lots of possibilities for its use, one being creating circuits.

Tiny drops of gallium can be stacked on top of each other, plus a drop of gallium can be dragged along a surface, leaving a thin trail of oxide that can be used as a circuit.

Changeable


Another benefit is the liquid metal can also change shape, the surface tension of Gallium is 10 times that of water and can be varied by submerging the liquid metal in salt water and applying a voltage.


This means circuits can heal themselves when broken. When the edges are positioned against each other, the liquid metal miraculously flows back together.

The future of Gallium

Robotics

Scientists have confirmed that with refinement, Gallium could be used to create artificial muscles for robots.

As they found, the oxide layer can be made to form and disappear in water, by applying a tiny amount of voltage, which causes the beads to form and collapse instantly. By switching it back and forth, it’s possible to make the beads move a weight up and down, the basis of artificial muscles for robots.

Medical monitoring

Gallium circuits have the potential to monitor vital organs, like the brain and heart. They have proven to be more flexible and durable than existing electrodes, making them ideal for long-term use.


Gallium can be printed and applied directly onto the skin, almost like a temporary tattoo. The ink works like a conventional electrode, used to monitor brain and heart activity.


Wearable bendable tech

Gallium is ideal for making bendable circuits that can easily wrap around an arm and track an athlete’s motion, speed or vital signs.

Scientists can easily form it into thin wires, embedded between rubber or plastic sheets, so these wires can connect to electronic devices such as computer chips, capacitors and antennas.

Touch responsive devices

Gallium can be used for machines that don’t require programming, instead they react to changes in electrical resistance. So, by pushing, pulling or bending different parts of the grid it will activate different responses. For instance, turn motors or lights on and off, depending on where the material is pressed. There is no need for semiconductors or transistors.

It opens up the possibility of reacting directly to environmental stimuli, changing colour or thermal properties, as well as building responsiveness into devices, like reflexes into robots.

Storing energy

As a metal, Gallium conducts heat and electricity easily and could be useful for generating or storing energy.


Enhancing VR experiences


Gallium can track body motion and the forces you come into contact with, making it ideal for motion sensing devices.


Using Gallium in motion sensing gloves will mean changes in resistance can be detected as the wearer moves their hand, this can be imparted into the virtual reality (VR) world, to improve the gaming experience.


The Soumac View


Despite currently being in early stages of exploration, the properties of Gallium are showing great promise for successful use in medical monitoring, robotics, VR and wearable tech.

Based on the positive scientific findings to date, it’s likely we’ll see Gallium being much more widely adopted over the next few years.

It will be interesting to see how it is used to advance technology, in ways that make a difference.

About Soumac

At Soumac, we love to see the technological developments being made across all sectors and are always on hand to support businesses with their printed circuit board assembly needs, to help bring their ideas to life.


For more information on our services, please click here.

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