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April 29, 2011

Self-Healing Plastic

Finally.

Leslie Tamura's April 27, 2011 Washington Post story brought welcome news to those of us who've returned to our cars only to find a new scratch where some fool opening their door let it bang into ours.

Long story short: Scientists have developed a rubberlike substance called a metallo-supramolecular polymer, consisting of small, lightweight molecules held together by metal ions. When placed under UV light for 30 seconds, they dissassemble and diffuse into each other, repairing cuts made by a razor blade.

We've been reading about self-healing paint and plastic for about as long as we've heard "any day now" regarding easy video calling, which reared its futuristic head in 1960 at the New York World's Fair.

Vdeo calling has arrived, no question: the fact that I, a card-carrying TechnoDolt™, can make and receive video calls on my iPad 2 via Skype or FaceTime to/from anywhere in the world — free! — demonstrates it is indeed here.

The plastic and paint, not so much.

Real soon now, though.

The video up top describes how it works.

The abstract of the April 21, 2011 paper in Nature describing the new plastic follows.

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Optically healable supramolecular polymers

Polymers with the ability to repair themselves after sustaining damage could extend the lifetimes of materials used in many applications. Most approaches to healable materials require heating the damaged area. Here we present metallosupramolecular polymers that can be mended through exposure to light. They consist of telechelic, rubbery, low-molecular-mass polymers with ligand end groups that are non-covalently linked through metal-ion binding. On exposure to ultraviolet light, the metal–ligand motifs are electronically excited and the absorbed energy is converted into heat. This causes temporary disengagement of the metal–ligand motifs and a concomitant reversible decrease in the polymers’ molecular mass and viscosity, thereby allowing quick and efficient defect healing. Light can be applied locally to a damage site, so objects can in principle be healed under load. We anticipate that this approach to healable materials, based on supramolecular polymers and a light–heat conversion step, can be applied to a wide range of supramolecular materials that use different chemistries.

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More on this work here and here.

April 29, 2011 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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