Microcapsules give a new take on “self-healing” chips

December 26, 2011 – A group from the U. of Illinois has devised a new chip structure that identifies and patches flaws in semiconductors within seconds, saving much analysis and manual fixing and sparing otherwise functioning chips from the trash heap. The work is detailed in a paper published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Enabling devices with multiple complex functionalities means packing multiple complex chips into more complex packages and assemblies — making it increasingly difficult to find and fix any problems, e.g. failure attributed to temperature cycles or fatigue. Any failure anywhere in the circuit can shut down an entire device. In a fab, such reliability testing often means dumping chips that might otherwise be salvageable. "In a multilayer integrated circuit, there’s no opening it up. Normally you just replace the whole chip," points out materials science and engineering professor Nancy Sottos. Intelligently improving reliability and repairs has been long explored, including chip designs that diagnose component wear and automatically reroute functionality.

But a new approach aims to solve the problem directly without such circumnavigation. Adapting its previous work in self-healing polymer materials to conductive systems, this Illinois group placed tiny microcapsules (~10

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