I’ve heard of biomimetics – machinery and synthetics that can imitate organic materials – but this really takes the cake! In an effort to pioneer components and devices that would posses the regenerative powers of skin, a Spanish researcher Ibon Odriozola – who works for the CIDETEC Centre for Electrochemical Technologies in Spain – has created a polymer that could lead to a future where repairing machinery is as easy as suturing an open wound.
Comprised of a poly (urea-urethane) elastomeric matrix, the material is basically a network of complex molecular interactions that will spontaneously cross-link to “heal” most any break. In this context, the word “spontaneous” means that the material needs no outside intervention to begin its healing process, no catalyst or extra reactant.
To experiment with the material, Odriozola cut a sample in half with a razor blade at room temperature. And in just two hours, the cut healed itself with 97% efficiency. The reaction, called a metathesis reaction, has led Odriozola to dub the material his “Terminator” polymer, in reference to you-know-who (pictured above). Though the transition process takes a little longer, and involves polymers instead of metal, the basic principle is the same.
Unlike other self-healing materials, this one requires no catalyst and no layering. In addition to being very impressive to behold, this technology can extend the life spans of plastics that are under regular stress. The group’s main goal now is to make a harder version, perhaps one that could be formed into such parts itself. As it exists today, the polymer is squishy and somewhat soft.
In addition, a good self-healing material like this is a boon for ongoing efforts to find a viable material for artificial skin. Self-healing technology could also open the door to growth materials, as new units of the matrix could be incorporated as the material stretches and tears on the microscopic level. This would be especially useful when it comes to artificial skin, since it could grow over time and remove the need for replacement.
And if the healing mechanism proves strong enough, it could even be used as an adhesive or a sealant in other materials and even electronics. Just think of it! Everything from windows, to personal devices, to joints that are in need of padding. A simple injection of this type of material, and the breaks and aches go away. And given the progress being made with androids and life-like robots, its use as a source for artificial skin could go a long way to making them anthropomorphic.
And as usual, there’s a cool demonstration video. Enjoy!