Cell phones, tablets, cars and even weapons systems that can heal themselves when scratched or cracked are no longer confined to science fiction. During the American Chemistry Society’s annual conference on Monday, University of Southern Mississippi Professor Marek Urban demonstrated the new material and discussed numerous potential applications. When scratched or cracked, the new plastic responds on a molecular level and regenerates to repair itself without leaving any signs of damage. According to some scientists, the material is considered the “Holy Grail of Material Science.” Read on for more.
Similar developments in the past have made use of embedded capsules with repair material that would fill scratches when a plastic is cracked, but Urban’s method repairs broken bonds when an outside stimulus is applied. In the case, sunlight alone can do the trick. “Our new plastic tries to mimic nature, issuing a red signal when damaged and then renewing itself when exposed to visible light, temperature or pH changes,” Urban said while demonstrating the material.
The professor says human skin was the inspiration for the new plastic, which is being funded in part by the United States Department of Defense according to The Register. Beyond commercial applications such as self-repairing smartphones and car bumpers, the DoD is interested in potential weapons systems that can repair cracks during battle simply by being exposed to sunlight or other stimuli.
It is unclear when commercial or military devices that utilize the new plastic material might enter production.