Material Heals Like Living Things

by Michael Keller

It’s pretty common to nick yourself while making dinner. You lose some blood. It hurts a bit, especially if some lemon or salt gets in there. But usually within minutes, the signs of automatic repair are evident.

Blood starts coagulating at the wound site. A clot forms to patch the injury, which eventually dries into a scab. Beneath, the body’s regenerative machinery is in full swing—regrowing damaged cells, hunting and neutralizing foreign invaders, and reconnecting cut links, vessels and fibers. Organisms can even recover from significantly more serious damage.

The same can’t be said for inanimate objects. There has been some success in the pursuit of self-healing materials, but that has only been shown for microscopic cracks and defects and certain films. Larger damage has required human intervention to make the fix. 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) scientists say they’ve taken a step in making polymer materials that can rebuild lost mass and repair themselves after suffering serious injury. Their work fixed holes that spanned 1.4 inches in diameter, which amounts to repairing damage 100 times the volume of previous attempts.

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