Your expensive smartphone sat on a wall. Your expensive smartphone had a great fall.
Researchers have developed a self-repairing polymeric material that could put your expensive smartphone back together again.
Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, took a page directly out of Marvel Comics to create a new component that not only heals itself but can stretch up to 50 times its usual size.
“When I was young, my idol was Wolverine from the X-Men,” team leader Chao Wang said in a statement. “He could save the world, but only because he could heal himself.”
Inspired by the fictional mutant, who boasts powerful regenerative powers and retractable bone claws, Wang invented a self-healing lithium ion battery—”so when you drop your cell phone, it could fix itself and last much longer.”
The material can stretch up to 50 times its size (Wang lab)
The key component, according to the American Chemical Society (ACS), is chemical bonding. Available in two flavors—strong-but-inactive covalent bonds and weak-but-dynamic noncovalent bonds.
As you may remember from middle school science class, the hydrogen bonds that connect water molecules are noncovalent; they break and constantly reform to allow for fluid properties of the liquid.
And while most artificial or synthetic substances with the ability to automatically repair damage to themselves will form hydrogen bonds or metal coordination, these aren’t suitable for ionic conductors, Wang explained.
Instead, he and his team used a different type of noncovalent bond: ion-dipole interaction—a force between charged ions and polar molecules—which has “never been used for designing a self-healing polymer,” Wang said. “But it turns out that they’re particularly suitable for ionic conductors.”
The prototype technology, presented at last week’s National Meeting & Exposition of the ACS, can stretch up to 50 times its usual size. Even more impressive: tear it in two, and the material automatically stitches itself back together completely within a day.
For their next trick, Wang and his researchers are testing the material in harsh conditions, like high humidity, which has proven troublesome in the past.
“Water gets in there and messes things up. It can change the mechanical properties,” according to Wang. “We are currently tweaking the covalent bonds within the polymer itself to get these materials ready for real-world applications.”