Until now, plastics re-forming and taking their former shapes after breakage was only possible in Steven Spielberg's science fiction movies. But in this, the 21st Century dreams and wild imaginations are slowly becoming a reality. Thanks to the latest developments by a research team led by Professor Marek W. Urban at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, we could be looking at a whole new revolution in the field of plastic. The team showcased a new kind of plastic material at the 243rd National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society. The claim made was that this new material “bleeds” and then heals itself just like the human skin which repairs itself naturally after it’s been wounded. Think of the Terminator T1000, or at least, some sort of predecessor made from plastic and not as sophisticated. This new form of plastic, when damaged will depict a reddish hue and can be healed when exposed o light. It will even work in ambient temperature or pH levels, which makes it that much more interesting.
Nissan's iPhone Case that heals itself
So how exactly does it work, is naturally the million dollar question. There are tiny micro capsules, which are embedded into polymers of this material. When the plastic is damaged, the links or the chemical bonds between these micro capsules break and that results in the reddish tint (just like blood would emerge from a scratch or wound on a human). The damaged portion would then proceed to heal itself using ambient light by ‘regenerating’ or re-join the separated bonds. A chemical fluid released is what helps put these links back together. The regeneration isn’t an one-time function, but can be replicated multiple times over, due to which this plastic has huge potential to be used in industries and perhaps even in the medical segment or used in aircrafts, satellites or spacecrafts in which the different parts can be healed in case of an accident caused by debris. The future changes made to the product will feature other colours to notify damage.
Another way to explain how it works is by attributing the healing process to joining a broken or damaged wax candle with heat re-forming the whole. One of the biggest breakthroughs in this plastic technology was back in 2001, when researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign figured out a way to embed microcapsules into polymers. This is all thanks to advancement and successful results in finding how to assemble and disassemble polymers with chemical bonds.
Research leader Marek W. Urban said that joining soft materials would be much easier and less time consuming than hard materials as soft materials can combine with easy flowing gel. So, the Terminator will have to wait. A concept iPhone case has been made by Nissan, which uses somewhat the same concept as this new kind of plastic, which heals itself. This case self heals with the same scratch-healing paint that's used on Nissan’s Infiniti cars.