In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Marek Urban of the University of Southern Mississippi explains the creation of a material with the ability to heal itself.
Marek Urban recently joined the faculty of Clemson University as the Sirrine Endowed Chair in Advanced Fiber Based Materials. His research group remains focused on the development of new generations of stimuli-responsive polymeric materials that exhibit self-repairing attributes.
Dr. Marek Urban – Self-Healing Materials
When you cut your skin, the wounded area usually turns reddish and, depending upon the amount of damage, blood may flow to the wound. When you cut a piece of plastic, usually a visible scratch is observed, and perhaps mechanical integrity of the given material is perturbed. So when you drive your car, and a fine rock hits a surface on a nice shinny new paint, you may not be happy to see scratches on you new vehicle.
Several years back, we developed a polyurethane-based coating that upon mechanical damage is able to self-heal upon exposure to the sun. So when you drive your car on a sunny day, scratches will be repaired.
Now going back to skin cutting and bleeding; this is one of the most recent discoveries of our research group, in which we develop a plastic which upon mechanical damage changes color to red. The media quickly picked up on that and labeled this discovery as a bleeding plastic. In essence, we designed a polymeric material in such a way that chemical changes in the damaged area induce color changes. But when exposed to light or acidic conditions, or elevated temperatures, not only the color turns back to its original colorless appearance, but also self-repairs. This process can be repeated several times without adverse effects on other properties. We are really excited about this discovery, especially that there are a number of endless applications, and we are also excited about the fact that it has been selected as one of the top five materials that will change the world.