Inspired by the human circulatory system, a research team at the University of Illinois has developed a polymer that allows plastic to regenerate after being damaged.
This high-tech plastic is composed of a dense network pf tubes filled with chemicals that can flow into and plug holes in the damaged areas. The chemicals are transported through two different tubes and then mix to fill in cracks and holes. They act in two phases. First, they form a gel that spans the gap created. Then, the gel hardens and fills in the crack, mimicking the way that blood clots. In this way, the object is repaired, or healed. And if it breaks again, it will still have the ability to regenerate.
The researchers claim to have repaired areas larger than 3.5 cm in 20 minutes and restored the mechanical functions of a smartphone in a bare 3 hours. Even so, they believe there is more progress to be made, particularly in terms of the material’s flexibility.
Smartphones aside, this self-healing technology could find uses in car bumpers, buried piping systems, spacecraft and, some day, products for your home.
"Vascular delivery lets us deliver a large volume of healing agents – which, in turn, enables restoration of large damage zones," says Nancy Sottos, a researcher at the University of Illinois. So, after an impact, the components are released to fill the gaps, "when separated, they flow freely, but when mixed they react with one another to form a polymer gel that hardens".