A team of international researchers has taken steps towards creating the world’s first stable self-healing material, according to a recent study in the journal Advanced Material.
The substance — a synthetic ionic conductor — is transparent, stretchable, and allows ions to freely flow through it. That unique ability means that it could one day be used to improve the longevity of electronic devices and may even help build self-repairing robots.
“Creating a material with all these properties has been a puzzle for years,” said study co-author Chao Wang, a material chemist at the University of California Riverside, in a statement. “We did that and now are just beginning to explore the applications.”
Almost all self-healing polymers are held together by noncovalent bonds. While such bonds are effective, they are also unstable under certain electrochemical conditions. To overcome that obstacle, the team combined a polar polymer with highly ionized salt. This then created a polymer that can stretch up to 50 times its original length when activated by an electrical stimulus and then re-attach itself within 24 hours after being cut or torn.
The study expands on recent research on the different applications for self-healing materials. In 2013, a team of Stanford researchers created a goo that repairs cracks in silicon electrodes to help expand the life of lithium ion batteries. And two years ago, researchers at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands used bacteria to develop self-repairing concrete.
The new material has a wide range of different applications. The team believes it could one day help extend the lifespan of the batteries in electric cars, create more efficient biosensors, and even power artificial muscles. Some researchers think it could even pave the way for self-healing robots programmed for everyday use.
“[I]magine a new class of robots that are based on soft, elastic materials, being powered by stretchable electronic circuits and thus much more closely resemble the elegant design of biology,” co-author Christoph Keplinger, a mechanical engineer at the University of Colorado, told The Christian Science Monitor. “This is the type of robot that will soon help us out in the household or help us care for elderly people.”