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breakthrough: self-repairing materials are already here

Technion research advances understanding of how nanoparticles self-heal, paving the way for their use in solar panels and other electronic devices.

Self-repairing robots and equipment are common in sci-fi films, from the Terminator to Spiderman’s outfit.

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What’s the difference between a shattered phone screen that miraculously heals itself overnight and solar panels on satellites that are constantly fixing damage from micrometeorites?

The field of self-repairing materials is fast increasing, and what was once considered science fiction may soon become reality, thanks to scientists at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology who produced eco-friendly self-healing nanocrystal semiconductors.

Their findings, which were recently published in Advanced Functional Materials, show how a class of materials known as double perovskites exhibit self-healing capabilities after being injured by electron beam radiation.

The perovskites, discovered in 1839, have recently attracted scientists’ interest due to their unusual electro-optical properties, which enable them to be extremely efficient at energy conversion despite their low cost of manufacturing. A significant emphasis has been placed on the usage of perovskites based on lead in extremely efficient solar cells.

Professor Yehonadav Bekenstein’s research group at the Technion is investigating green alternatives to harmful lead and developing lead-free perovskites. The group specializes in the synthesis of novel materials on a nanoscale. By manipulating the composition, shape, and size of the crystals, they may alter the material’s physical properties.

Nanocrystals are the tiniest stable material particles. Their scale emphasizes certain features and permits research approaches that would be unfeasible with larger crystals, such as imaging the movement of atoms in materials using electron microscopy. Indeed, it was by this mechanism that self-repair in lead-free perovskites was discovered.

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Prof. Bekenstein’s lab generated the perovskite nanoparticles using a brief, straightforward technique that includes heating the material to 100°C for a few minutes. Sasha Khalfin and Noam Veber observed the fascinating occurrence while examining the particles with a transmission electron microscope. This type of microscope’s high voltage electron beam created flaws and holes in the nanocrystals. The researchers were then able to investigate how these holes interact with and modify the substance in which they are embedded.

They saw that the holes moved freely within the nanocrystal but stayed away from its edges. The researchers built an algorithm that evaluated dozens of videos taken with an electron microscope in order to gain a better understanding of the crystal’s movement dynamics. They discovered that holes formed on the nanoparticles’ surfaces and subsequently migrated within to more energetically stable regions. The holes’ inward migration was suggested to be caused by organic molecules coating the nanocrystals’ surface. After removing the organic molecules, the group noticed that the crystal spontaneously expelled the holes to the surface and out, restoring its original pristine structure — in other words, the crustal fixed itself.

This breakthrough contributes significantly to our understanding of the processes by which perovskite nanoparticles self-heal and paves the road for their inclusion into solar panels and other electronic devices.

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