Video: With light, a new self-healing plastic could one day fix car scratches in seconds

A look at this new self-healing polymer that acts like a molecular glue. No more car scratches?

Imagine someone keys your car. But you take out light and shine it on the scratch - within seconds the damage disappears. The idea of a self-healing car might not be a far-fetched idea. An international team of researchers announced a new material that can turn into liquid when exposed to light and then solidify back after the damage has been repaired.

Materials that change their shape, change their properties and repair themselves isn't really a novel concept - researchers have always been trying to create materials that respond and adapt to their environment. For instance, others have tried heating polymers or embedding polymers with sensors to get them to self-heal.

But this particular class of material was designed respond to light. First, researchers took out a razor blade and scratched the polymer. After light was applied, it only took less than a minute for the material to heal.

Instead of making polymers with long chains, the polymers were made with small chains that are hooked together. Metal ions held the polymer-chains together through weak chemical interactions...but broke down when light was applied. As soon as the light was switched off, the material reorganized itself and healed! The small chains gave the material a superglue-like property.

Stuart Rowan, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, said in a statement:

"These polymers have a Napoleon Complex. In reality they're pretty small but are designed to behave like they're big by taking advantage of specific weak molecular interactions."

After damaging the material again, the researchers realized the material could handle repeated scratches. That's good news for consumers: Any surface prone to scratching could benefit. Unfortunately, the material isn't quite ready for prime time.

The study was published in Nature.

via National Science Foundation. The team of researchers included principles from NSF, the Army Research Office, the Adolphe Merkle Foundation and Case Western Reserve.

Credit: Case Western University

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