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Surprising Science

Self-Healing Synthetic Materials

Researchers at the University of Illinois have created materials that can repair themselves if they crack by pumping healing fluids around the material like the circulation of animal’s blood.

What’s the Latest Development?

Inspired by how blood circulates in animals, researchers at the University of Illinois have developed synthetic materials that can heal themselves when they crack. Throughout the hard materials, typically metals, plastics, or carbon composites, run a fine network of micro channels, each measuring less than 100 millionths of a meter in diameter. “Syringes on the outside of the material put healing fluids under pressure so that when a crack appears, a constant pressure drives the fluid into the cracks.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Materials that heal themselves could prove very useful in civil engineering projects and commercial products that demand a high degree of safety. “The method of constructing the materials is already well refined, using 3-D scaffolds of ‘sacrificial fibers’ that mould the network of channels within a synthetic material, that are then destroyed in the final stage of production.” Many of the machines that might utilize this technology, such as airplanes, already have hydraulic systems that would enable the pumping of healing fluids. 


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