After denting the zinc oxide nanobelt with an AFM tip, electric current helped the nanobelts heal and regain much of their function. (Credit: Nano Letters)

Xiaodong Li at the University of South Carolina in Columbia and his team of researchers found that applying electric current to zinc oxide nanobelts enable them to “self-heal” from mechanical damage. Their research was published in the Dec. 1 issue of Nano Letters.

According to Chemistry World, the team chose to study zinc oxide nanobelts because the material is widely used in nanogenerators and piezoelectric devices. They dented the material with an atomic force microscope, and observed the drops in electric conductivity that resulted. Then they applied an electric current and noted that the nanobelts regained function.

“You may say this nanodevice is damaged and throw it away, but after you give the current for a couple of minutes you may fully recover this nanodevice,” says Li. He believes that applying current to the material helps anneal dislocations caused by damage.

The teams findings have many implications. First, damage to device components could be diagnosed by monitoring an electrical signal. Second, by making precise indents in materials like nanobelts, it could be possible to tune their electrical properties.

Li and his team intend to broaden their research by applying the methodology to other materials. His findings may lead to new ways to design and manufacture nanodevices.