A team of researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a new polymer that can fill in and replace damaged material. Their example is a tile with a bullet hole through it that can be healed with the new plastic.
Self-healing polymers, plastics that seal cracks or cuts by themselves are not new. What makes this polymer special is that it can replace lost or removed sections of polymer almost organically.
“We have demonstrated repair of a nonliving, synthetic materials system in a way that is reminiscent of repair-by-regrowth as seen in some living systems,” said Jeffry S. Moore, professor of chemistry.
The team is led by professor Scott White and joined by professor Nancy Sottos and graduate students Brett Krull, Windy Santa Cruz and Ryan Gergely. Together they have developed a liquid polymer that wicks into cracks and deposits on itself to repair materials.
“Vascular delivery lets us deliver a large volume of healing agents — which, in turn, enables restoration of large damage zones,” said Sottos, a professor of materials science and engineering. “The vascular approach also enables multiple restorations if the material is damaged more than once.”
“We have to battle a lot of extrinsic factors for regeneration, including gravity,” said study leader White, a professor of aerospace engineering. “The reactive liquids we use form a gel fairly quickly, so that as it’s released it starts to harden immediately. If it didn’t, the liquids would just pour out of the damaged area and you’d essentially bleed out. Because it forms a gel, it supports and retains the fluids. Since it’s not a structural material yet, we can continue the regrowth process by pumping more fluid into the hole.”
The applications for a real-world omni gel are limitless. Buildings and structures that can self-repair, windows that can mend their own cracks, vehicle skins that never wear out … imagine a armored transport that can hit an IED, and assuming it holds together, can pump armor back into place.
This is some crazy sci-fi stuff right here, right now. In Illinois.