New breed of plastic bleeds, heals itself

Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi develop a new kind of plastic that bleeds and then heals itself over and over again.

The University of Southern Mississippi developed a plastic that turns red when damaged and repairs itself. Marek W. Urban

Researchers at the University of Southern Mississippi have developed a new kind of self-repairing plastic that could lead to impenetrable cell phones, laptops, and cars -- or the next Terminator.

Team lead professor Marek W. Urban presented the results of the research at the National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in San Diego this week, revealing a type of plastic that mimics human skin.

Though self-healing plastic isn't a new concept, Urban says the benefit of his team's plastic is its warning system and ability to repair itself over and over again.

Different groups have approached the idea of self-repairing plastic in different ways, from injecting plastics with capsules that release repairing compounds when broken to making plastics that reconstruct themselves when exposed to outside stimulus like heat and light. The University of Southern Mississippi's result was a combination of both.

Urban and his team developed the plastic using small molecular links, or "bridges," that span the long chains of chemicals that make up plastic. When the plastic is scratched or cracked, the links are broken and release a red color (akin to bleeding) to let you know there is damage. The plastic can then repair itself with exposure to light or a change in pH balance or temperature.

Urban sees this warning system as an advantage for big-scale structures like bridges, aircraft, and even battlefield weapon systems, down to everyday items like cell phones and car fenders. (Anyone else imagining self-healing droids a la Terminator?)

A couple of other benefits to this new plastic are that it can repair itself over and over again, and it's more environmentally friendly than other plastics since it's made from water-based copolymers.

With partial research funding coming from the Department of Defense, Urban said the group is now looking to incorporate the technology into plastic that can withstand high temperatures. But he didn't say when we might see it in commercial use.

(Via Engadget)

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