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Self-healing polymer

Scientists invent self-healing 'terminator' polymer that could revolutionize electronics, body armor

Tuesday, September 17, 2013 by: J. D. Heyes
Tags: self-healing polymer, chemistry, body armor

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(NaturalNews) Okay, so maybe Hollywood is really where the cutting edge of technology takes place. What moviemakers and scriptwriters dream up eventually becomes reality.

That would certainly seem to be the case in this instance: Scientists in Spain are boasting about creating the first self-healing thermoset elastomer that does not require any intervention in order to regenerate and repair itself.

But don't think of the layer of skin over Arnold Schwarzenegger's "Terminator" robot (circa 1984). Think more of the robot sent after him in Terminator II - the one that could shift forms and be transformed into molten liquid - then reform.

From the website Chemistry World:

Self-healing polymers mend themselves by reforming broken cross-linking bonds. However, the cross-linking healing mechanism usually requires an external stimulus.

Triggers to promote bond repair include energy inputs, such as heat or light, or specific environmental conditions, such as pH. Self-healing polymers that can spontaneously achieve quantitative healing in the absence of a catalyst have never been reported before, until now.

Lots of technical jargon - but the concept may have practical uses

Ibon Odriozola, of the CIDETEC Centre for Electrochemical Technologies in Spain, and his group previously came close to achieving this breakthrough biotechnology when they developed self-healing silicone elastomers - an elastomer is a polymer with viscoelasticity (colloquially "elasticity" - like rubber) - using silver nanoparticles as part of the compound.

"Unfortunately, an applied external pressure was required and the expensive silver component disfavoured commercialisation. But now they have achieved their goal to prepare self-healing elastomers from common polymeric starting materials using a simple and inexpensive approach," said Chemistry World.

According to the researchers, an industrially familiar, permanently cross-linked poly(urea-urethane) elastomeric network was able to completely mend itself after having been severed in half with a razor blade. "It is the metathesis reaction of aromatic disulphides, which naturally exchange at room temperature, that causes regeneration," said the site.

Odriozola emphasized that the use of such commercially available materials would be especially important for industrial applications. He went on to say that the polymer tends to behave as though it were alive, "always healing itself," the site said. Hence the name it has been dubbed: "Terminator" polymer, like the shape-changing, sometimes molten T-1000 terminator robot.

"It acts as a velcro-like sealant or adhesive, displaying an impressive 97 percent healing efficiency in just two hours and does not break when stretched manually," said Chemistry World.

David Mecerreyes, who is a polymer chemistry specialist at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, says he believes there is an opportunity to use this material to improve security and duration of a number of plastic parts, like those found in houses, cars, electrical components and biomaterials.

Soon, skin for robots?

"The introduction of a room temperature exchangeable covalent bond in classic thermoset elastomers provides unique autonomous self-healing abilities without comprising the pristine material properties," Richard Hoogenboom, head of the Supramolecular Chemistry group at Ghent University in Belgium, told Chemistry World. "Close resemblance of this novel self-healing thermoset elastomer with current commercial materials makes it highly interesting for extending the lifetime of such materials."

Future work by the group will concentrate on stronger polymeric materials, as the current poly(urea-urethane) composite is relatively soft, the site said.

In November 2012, the website reported that the kind of synthetic skin similar to what was seen covering Schwarzenegger's less modern T-800 robot came closer to reality thanks to research conducted by scientists in the U.S.

"The researchers, led by Zhenan Bao of Stanford University in California, have created a flexible, touch-sensitive, electrically conducting and pressure-sensitive polymer-based material that could have 'e-skin' applications for robots or prosthetic body parts, such as artificial hands," Chemistry World reported.





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