Self healing materials

An ion-dipole interaction and self-healing material. On the left the material is fractured and no longer a conductor, on the right the material has self healed and is again a conductor. Credit: University of Colorado, Boulder

Living beings have all, to different degrees, the capability of repairing themselves. Some animals have astonishing capabilities of repairing themselves, like the hydra that split in two parts re-generates itself twice, once for each part. Lizards can regrow their tail, sharks their teeth, spiders their legs…

Plants are also very good at re-growing,  just think about your need to keep mowing the lawn in your backyard…

All in all, as a species, we are probably the less effective one in repairing ourselves. On the other hand, there is a lot of repair that goes on, mostly unnoticed in our bodies and if we happen to cut our skin in a matter of a few days the skin has self restored itself.

What scientists are trying to do is to create materials that can self repair.

The first successes have occurred at the turn of this century, mostly in polymers and elastomers. In the last few years researchers have discovered ways to create self healing metals and ceramics materials.

 

I just stumbled onto an article published on Advanced Materials by a team including researchers from the University of Riverside in California and Boulder in Colorado reporting on the creation of a transparent, self healing highly stretchable ionic conductor.

The material can be used as artificial muscles or to flank a real muscle since it can stretch when a voltage is applied (similar to what happens to a real muscle). There are already a number of stretchable material that can mimic a muscle but the problem is that after having stretched several times they start to degenerate, cracks appear and in a little while they lose their functionality. What researchers managed to do is to create a self healing process that fixes the damage caused by repetitive stretching.

The material feels (and look) like rubber, it can be stretched up to 50 times its normal size and if it is cut it can heal itself in 24 hours at room temperature, restoring its stretching characteristics.

This is quite interesting since it opens the door to several applications, from artificial muscles to transparent loudspeakers...

Author - Roberto Saracco

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