Plastics, Heal Thyself
New advances make self-healing plastics a reality.
Web2Carz Senior Writer
Published: March 30th, 2012
"Our new plastic tries to mimic nature, issuing a red signal when damaged and then renewing itself when exposed to visible light, temperature or pH changes" —Marek Urban, polymer scientist
hanks to the latest advances in chemistry, we’re now one step closer to the day when devices, or at least ones made out of plastic, can repair themselves. Self-healing plastics, once the stuff of sci-fi film fakery, are already possible. In fact, if you’ve ever used a self-healing cutting mat, you’ve seen an early version of this technology in action.
But imagine if the dings in your car door could heal themselves overnight, or if a cracked cellphone could fix itself. These things may not be as far away as you might think.
"Mother Nature has endowed all kinds of biological systems with the ability to repair themselves," Malek Urban, polymer scientist at University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, said in a press release. "Our new plastic tries to mimic nature, issuing a red signal when damaged and then renewing itself when exposed to visible light, temperature or pH changes."
Plastics are made self-healable by embedding microcapsules into polymers. When the plastic is damaged, the microcapsules break open and release a healing agent that could restore broken chemical bonds.
One of the new technologies involves materials that turn red when damaged. They can then be healed by exposure to light or other stimuli.
“You think it’s science fiction,” Urban said. “But really, it’s not. There are millions and millions of applications, ranging from transportation to sensing to space to energy to cosmetics to health to medicine.”