The idea of a compound that can heal itself is one that has fascinated scientists for years. Such a material would have wide-reaching applications in everything from manufacturing to healthcare. Now, scientists from Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tokyo are showing off a material that does just that.
Dubbed MWCNTs-PBS, it is a composite of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) and polyborosiloxane (PBS). The material builds on principles of things like lizard tails and starfish arms and can stitch itself back together after being cut in half.
The self-healing compound developed at Carnegie Mellon has many interesting properties. Surprisingly, it holds its shape rather than flowing into a goopy mess. The team demonstrated how it works with a GIF that shows a heart-shaped piece of the material healing itself.
It’s worth noting that the seam where the material rejoins eventually disappears as it comes together. The process reportedly works thanks to an on-board sensor that is capable of detecting when the material is cut or damaged and when the pieces have been rejoined. That being said, it isn’t as quick as the GIF makes it appear. In total, it takes the material about six hours to fully heal itself.
Nonetheless, it could be incredibly useful in future technology and manufacturing applications. The researchers note that their compound stands out from other self-healing materials as it doesn’t rely on the flow of reagents. Other materials encapsulate certain reagents within themselves. Then, when they are cut, the reagent is released and heals the material.
Since the compound developed by Carnegie researchers is able to return to its original shape once healed, it could theoretically be used to create things like sensors and electrical components.
The researchers have already highlighted a few unique uses for their material. One of these is a reusable arm cast. A doctor could theoretically mold it around a broken arm and allow the material to heal. Over time, as the broken bone mends itself, the material could adjust itself for a better fit that helps the body heal faster.
Fang Qin, a lead author on the study, says, “Self-healing is an interesting concept that opens the team’s imagination to explore more intelligent interfaces.”
Speaking of, the team is now working on applications that include self-actuation and self-assembly. Those traits would obviously be intriguing from a manufacturing and design standpoint. If an electronic component could assemble itself without the need for external equipment, companies could produce things with far lower costs.
Koya Narumi, a PhD student at the University of Tokyo, sees the material being even more impactful. He says, “I foresee a possibility that the interfaces we encounter in our daily lives will become more and more autonomous, more like a ‘life-form’ that helps us rather than something that is used by us.”
While the material is still a long, long way off from being used in a commercial setting, it is certainly an interesting invention to keep an eye on in the years to come.