If you cut yourself shaving, it’s no big problem because you know it will heal.
But what if you scratch the screen on your cell phone, or scrape your car up against something and put a long scratch on the fender?
In the future, that may be no problem either, once the technological breakthroughs made at a Clemson University lab find their way onto the market.
Marek Urban, who holds the J.E. Sirrine Endowed Chair in materials science and engineering at Clemson, is doing research that promises to endow inanimate objects with life-mimicking healing abilities.
And the possibilities are nearly limitless.
Beyond paint and plastics are potential applications such as self-healing cloth, military vehicles that patch their own bullet holes and hip replacements that could repair themselves. Or fingernail polish that lasts longer, something a cosmetics company has contacted Urban about.
And the latest permutation in the works: adding the ability to keep iron from corroding, which could mean self-repairing bridges and other structures made of steel.
It’s not just in the coatings, like in paint, where the self-healing process can be incorporated, but it can be infused into the materials that go to make a product, like the artificial joints used in hip replacements.
The secret ingredient in the healing process – sugar.
Sugar, or glucose, “provides sufficient chemistry at this broken interface to allow the materials to stitch together.”
“It’s a baby step in going towards more living synthetic materials.”
In other words, it’s almost like the way cut skin heals, with the same type of chemical reactions occurring.
“So in a way it’s a living system, but it’s certainly a very primitive living system at this point,” Urban said.
The building blocks of the process are polymers, long chains of molecules that are “stitched together like beads on a necklace,” he said.
Those extremely versatile materials can be either laced together to form a strong network or melted into a desired shape. The use of sugar, which makes Urban’s process different from work done by other scientists, facilitates the sewing up of breakages in the molecular chains.
The Latest on: Self-healing devices
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The Latest on: Self-healing devices
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