The breakthrough by the university team was featured in the May 9, 2014 issue of the journal Science. It’s the first self-healing technology that addresses more than hairline fractures.
In a video demonstration, the scientists reveal how their technology can self-heal and regenerate the plastic area that was fractured by a bullet. The bullet left a significant-sized hole in the plastic sheet that typically would require replacing the entire plastic sheet.
The scientists release the two colored liquids and within a few seconds, the polymer begins to fill in the hole until it is finally sealed.
While regenerating polymer or plastic isn’t new research and some progress had previously been made, none of the researchers had created material that was capable of sealing a damaged area as large as the bullet-sized hole. In fact, the closest self-healing plastic created prior to this team’s creation was only capable of healing hairline fractures or small cuts made in the plastic.
How It Works
The material that restores the plastic is delivered to the damaged area via two fluid streams that have been dyed red and blue. The liquids gel and fill the cracks and the hole.
The gel then hardens. This process reclaims the damaged area to make it part of the whole once more.
The scientists give a scenario of possible practical applications for this self-healing material. For example, if you were driving a car and had a wreck that “mangled the bumper”, the nano material would simply initiate a self-repair “within minutes of an accident”.
But that’s not all it can do; there are uses of this product that are reach beyond simple car self-repairs.
The material could be used to regenerate worn out machine parts or even entire products that might be difficult to replace or even repair.
The aerospace industry could greatly benefit from such a product. The threat of damage to the space station could be effectively reduced.
Inspired by the Human Vascular System
The university team based their self-healing technique on the “vascular delivery” found in the human body. Simply put, it’s the way human blood vessels deliver blood supplies to various organs.
The mimicking of this natural technique proved to be so successful that the team was able to deliver a repairing synthetic system to the damaged area. This process literally re-grows the material to refill the hole.
The team’s past work of “developing vascular materials” aided them in formulating the regenerating system. By creating material with a network of capillaries similar to the human body they were able to design a product capable of self-healing through regeneration.
Being able to create a network of capillaries means the scientists can work with large volumes. This gives their self-healing material the ability to restore even larger “damage zones”. And, if the material is damaged more than once what happens? It’s not a problem since the material can self-heal and regenerate itself again and again, indefinitely.
One of the biggest challenges that the team had to overcome was gravity since the effect of gravity made the liquids gel too quickly. This caused the fluids to simply pour through the damaged area. The scientist had to find a way to slow the gelling process.
By slowing down the flow, the team was able to force the liquids to gel faster and quicken the hardening time. The liquids could then “continue the regrowth process by pumping more fluid into the hole”. With such cutting edge creations, the world of nano science is clearly alive and growing.
(1) YouTube Video Screenshots