“I think it will have all sorts of uses,” said Professor Ludwik Leibler, one of the researchers behind the invention. “It’s just a matter of using your imagination. We have only just begun to think of what can be done with it. Stockings are a very good idea. It could be used in glass vases so they don’t break when your children knock them over - it could make the glass bouncy.” Professor Leibler and his colleagues at the Industrial Physics and Chemistry Higher Educational Institution in Paris are convinced that it has potential for use in a wide range of applications. They are most hopeful of adapting the technology in medicine, where self-healing properties would be invaluable for artificial bone and cartilage.
The technology could also be applied to paint and other coatings, saving householders and car owners the expense of repairing chips and nicks. Its use in pipes would make plumbing repairs easier, perhaps sealing leaks before they became serious. The substance, which has taken five years to develop, is ready for commercial use, Professor Leibler says. This is expected to be in plastics.
The material mimics the elastic qualities of rubber but with the advantage of having “sticky ends” when a break occurs. The substance has small molecules arranged in a network that stretch but will return to its original shape. Once the broken ends are pushed together they start healing because the molecular make-up is such that the surfaces have lifelike attributes and seek to form bridges.
The research team reported their invention of the “supramolecular rubber” in the journal Nature. “These materials can be easily processed, reused and recycled. Their unique self-repairing properties, the simplicity of their synthesis, their availability from renewable resources and the low cost of raw ingredients bode well for future applications.”
They added that the material behaved like a rubber but “exhibits unique self-healing properties: when a sample is broken or cut into pieces and the pieces are brought into contact together for some time at room temperature (20C, 68F) they self-heal without the need to heat or press strongly. The process of breaking and healing can be repeated many times.”
The maximum time the ends can be left before it becomes impossible for them to repair themselves reduces as temperatures rise. At 23C they can be left for more than a week but at 40C the time falls to 48 hours. The longer the surfaces are left to fuse, the stronger the repair, but even after 15 minutes of bonding the material could still be stretched to three times its normal length before snapping.
I have a one word comment – Wow!