New research presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society March 26, showed a new genre of plastics that mimic the human skin’s ability to heal itself. Self-healing plastics have been developed for a while, but what makes this new material unique is it’s ability to “bleed” and heal itself over and over again in the same spot. The “bleeding” is achieved by using small molecular links or bridges that break when the plastic is scratched. When damaged the plastics turn red, and then can heal itself when exposed to light.
Professor Marek W. Urban, Ph.D. with the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, foresees a wide range of potential applications for plastic with warn-and-self-repair capabilities. It could be used from everything from scratches in automobile fenders that then potentially could easily be repaired by simply exposing the fender to intense light, to critical structural parts in aircraft that would warn of damage by turning red at affected and damaged areas.
“Mother Nature has endowed all kinds of biological systems with the ability to repair themselves”, explained Professor Marek W. Urban, Ph.D. “Some we can see, like the skin healing and new bark forming in cuts on a tree trunk. Some are invisible, but help keep us alive and healthy, like the self-repair system that DNA uses to fix genetic damage to genes. 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.”
Professor Urban presented several advantages of the new plastic material. Unlike other self-healing plastics that commonly rely on embedded healing compounds that can self-repair only once, this plastic can heal itself over and over again. The material also is more environmentally friendly than many other plastics, with the process for producing the plastic water-based, rather than relying on potentially toxic ingredients.