When the caoutchouc tree is damaged, liquid latex containing capsules of the protein hevein escapes from inside of it.
Those capsules rupture, releasing the hevein, which links the latex particles together and ultimately closes up the wound. The whole bursting/sealing-microcapsules thing is obviously a pretty good idea, as it has been put to use in human technology such as self-healing concrete, electronics, paint and aircraft epoxy resin. Now, German researchers have copied the caoutchouc tree’s modus operandi to create a self-sealing elastic polymer.
Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology loaded microcapsules with the adhesive polyisobutylene, then put those capsules into synthetic caoutchouc sap elastomers. The idea was that when pressure was put on the elastomers to the point of cracking, the capsules would rupture and mix with the elastomers’ polymer chains, thus sealing the cracks.
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