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Colour & Materials
Published: 17 Jun 2016

Self-Healing Material Solutions

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Super-stretchy, self-healing polymer by Stanford University

While still in an early stage of development, the demand for self-healing materials is rapidly increasing, with the market estimated to be worth $2.7bn by 2020, according to a 2015 report by US-based industry analyst firm N-tech Research. From new smart materials to self-healing electronics, we explore the newest innovations.

  • Artificial Smart Muscles: Chemical engineers at Stanford University in California have developed a new rubber-like material with the potential to be used as artificial muscles. A one-inch sample of the new flexible material can stretch to more than 100 inches before returning to its original state. The material is self-adhesive and can repair itself almost instantly when torn or punctured.

    These self-healing properties mimic the capabilities of human muscle, so the team is looking to apply this material to artificial skin, with the possibility of restoring sensory abilities. The synthetic material is made by cross-linking a series of specially designed molecules called ligands with metal ions, which have a natural attraction to ligands, allowing them to reconnect if their bond is broken.

    For more on alternative skin innovations and synthetic body ligaments, see Second Skin: Anti-Ageing Innovation, MIT’s 3D-Printed Hair and Prosthetics That Feel.
  • Hybrid Composite: Researchers at Rice University in Texas have created a solid/liquid hybrid composite material called Sac (self-adaptive composite). The self-adhesive material has a sponge-like texture, which can return to its original shape after breaking and repairing. The flexible properties of this material offer promise for use in tissue engineering for medical research and small-scale construction models.

    Sac is made by combining two synthetic polymers (a powder and a liquid) with a solvent that solidifies the mixture when exposed to heat. While researchers have currently only built small quantities, new formulas are in development for mass distribution.

    For more on self-adhesive materials, see Fenix NTM: Self-Healing Smart Material, Self-Healing Materials Innovations and Self-Healing Plastic Inspired by Squid Teeth.
  • Durable Electronics: Scientific researchers and engineers at Penn State University in Pennsylvania have built a new self-healing electronic material. Unlike other electronics like LG’s G Flex Smartphone, which can eliminate visible damage such as scratches or dents while restoring partial electronic functions, this is the first material that can regain full functionality once damaged. Its strength, flexibility and endurance could improve the durability of wearable electronics for use in fitness trackers and smart clothing. It could also be used in smart packaging, thanks to the material’s tough and waterproof texture.

    For more on flexible electronics, see CES 2016: LG Rollable Screen, Luxe Pack 2016 and Material Focus 17/18: Wondrous Response.
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