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Lithium-ion batteries inspired by children's slime won't catch fire and explode

The oobleck-like batteries harden on impact to prevent electronics from bursting into flames.

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Crushader/Reddit

The slimy children's goo known as oobleck, made from cornstarch and water, has inspired researchers to create a lithium-ion battery that is less prone to dangerous fires.

Lithium-ion batteries are indispensable to our tech-filled lives -- they power basically all of our electronic devices, from laptops to headphones to smartphones. Sadly, they can explode when damaged (as one major mobile manufacturer is well aware).

A lithium-ion battery has two electrodes that are never meant to come in contact with each other. Most devices use a separating layer of plastic to prevent this from happening. However, if that plastic becomes damaged or the electrodes are bent in such a way that they can touch...

BOOM. 

On Wednesday, researchers presented an alternative, inexpensive method to prevent these fires from occurring at the 256th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society -- and revealed they were inspired by the properties of oobleck.

Gabriel Veith, the project's principal investigator, explained that his idea was born when he saw his kids playing with oobleck. Oobleck, which is named after a Dr. Seuss book, acts much like a liquid until it is touched. If you move it or try to hit it, it acts more like a solid.

Using that philosophy, Veith and colleagues suspended silica particles in a liquid and added them to the batteries, giving them similar characteristics to the slime. When the batteries are impacted, the silica particles clot together and harden, preventing the flow of fluids or ions. That means no more fires.

The team patented the technology under the name "Safe Impact Resistant Electrolyte", reports Science. In the future, Veith hopes to improve the system and apply it to batteries in drones and eventually in the armed forces, where soldiers typically carry heavy batteries on their person.

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