The next time your drop your Smartphone and accidentally break its expensive screen, sit back and relax. Your cracked Smartphone screen will repair itself thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Bristol. These researchers have developed tiny microspheres containing a liquid carbon-based healing agent, which can fix everything from airplane wings and Smartphone screens, to car windshields and helmets — even nail varnish — within the next five to ten years.
Inspired by human body scabs, researchers created the strong but lightweight substances that can be embedded in the carbon of the airplane wing, releasing a liquid agent on impact. The liquid seeps into the cracks, triggers a rapid chemical reaction, and hardens quickly and almost invisibly. This hardening occurs, thanks to an additional catalyst used when making the wing.
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Team leader, Professor Duncan Wass, told The Independent:
“We took inspiration from the human body. We’ve not evolved to withstand any damage – if we were like that we’d have a skin as thick as a rhinoceros – but if we do get damaged, we bleed, and it scabs and heals. We just put that same sort of function into a synthetic material: let’s have something that can heal itself.
“Laboratory tests have established that the material is just as strong after it has “healed”, raising the possibility of aircraft wings that can repair themselves “literally on the fly” if a bird strike takes place in mid-flight.”
Wass revealed to the BBC that the technology could also be applied to other products made of carbon composite materials – including bicycle frames and wind turbines.
“Composite materials are increasingly used in modern airlines, military aircraft and wind turbines. They are very stiff and strong but very light. That’s perfect for aerospace… but the problem is if they are damaged, they are difficult to protect and repair. Our technology would enable you to maybe extend the maintenance schedule or use less material without compromising safety.
“…We are talking about airplane wings here – the most demanding application because of the safety aspect. You have to over-engineer. We would literally break it, allow it to heal, break it again. In some cases we were getting 100% recovery. The “healed” aircraft wings were often as strong as they had been originally.”
Forbes reports beauty giant L’Oréal has expressed a strong interest in the self-healing technology’s vast potentials, and is considering self-healing nail varnish. However, Wass observes:
“In order to achieve success, manufacturers would need to add the formula to existing materials, potentially requiring only a small manufacturing change. The devil is in the detail and they would need to check that it doesn’t adversely affect other properties.”
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