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Brief Published: 27 May 2014

Self-Healing Materials Innovations

Recyclable industrial polymer by IBM

US researchers have unveiled two new classes of industrial 'self-healing' materials for the transportation and aerospace industries.

Scientists from the California-based research lab of American tech giant IBM have discovered a new class of industrial polymer materials that have the ability to reform to their original shape (self-heal). They are also stronger than bone, lightweight and completely recyclable, as well as the first to demonstrate a resistance to cracking.

Meanwhile, researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois have created 3D microvascular networks (patterns of microchannels filled with healing chemistries) for self-healing composites. This allows high-performance materials such as fibreglass to heal repeatedly and autonomously.

While self-healing polymers existed before, the Beckman Institute's breakthrough is a first for composite fibres. Scott White, aerospace engineering professor at the institute, said: "Self-healing has been done before in polymers with different techniques and networks, but they couldn't be translated to fibre-reinforced composites. The missing link was the development of the vascularisation technique."

For more on self-healing materials, see: LG Flex at CES 2014, Self-Healing Concrete, and Self-Aware Living Materials.