Medical implants and spacecraft can suddenly go dead, often for the same reason: cracks in ceramic capacitors, which are devices that store electric charge in electronic circuits. These cracks, at first harmless and often hidden, can start conducting electricity, depleting batteries, or shorting out the electronics.
After years of effort by manufacturers and researchers, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and collaborators have demonstrated a nondestructive approach for detecting cracks in ceramic capacitors before they go bad. In the study, the prototype method led to the rejection of more than 90% of sample capacitors with visible cracks. Once further studies quantify and confirm detection levels, the new technique may help prevent failures in medical devices such as cardiac pacemakers and defibrillators, and also avert electronics failures in satellites and other spacecraft. The new method may also detect structural flaws in other types of materials, researchers say.