Stanford University researchers have developed a synthetic skin that can repair itself. The new skin can be used to build newer prosthetics and newer electronics.
The polymer is sensitive to pressure and torsion (or twisting). Researchers say that the plastic can detect the pressure of a handshake and is therefore an ideal material to be used in the field of prosthetics.
To demonstrate its effectiveness, researchers cut through the plastic using a scalpel. After about 15 seconds of holding the sliced pieces together, the plastic regained 98 percent of electrical conductivity back.
Other uses of this material could be in electronic items where the plastic would be able to repair itself and get the electricity flowing after damage.
Earlier, getting a self-healing plastic would require high amounts of heat to get back to its original shape and even then it had changed chemical and physical properties. Also, no self-healing plastic was a good conductor of electricity.
"To interface this kind of material with the digital world, ideally you want them to be conductive," said Benjamin Chee-Keong Tee, first author of the paper in a news release.
Researchers joined a self-healing plastic with a metal, making the material flexible and a good conductor of electricity.
They started out with long chain of molecules that were joined together by hydrogen bonds.
"These dynamic bonds allow the material to self-heal," said Chao Wang, co-author of the research.
Wang said that the molecules easily break apart, but when they reconnect, the bonds restore the structure of the material resulting in a bendable material. He said that at room temperature the material feels a little like "salt water taffy left in the fridge".
"I think it's kind of a breakthrough. It's the first time that we've seen this combination of both mechanical and electrical self-healing," said John J. Boland, a chemist at the CRANN nanoscience institute at Trinity College Dublin. Boland added that the researchers cut through the plastic using a scalpel that didn't cause much deformation or scarring and that the plastic may not be effective in self-repair when it is deformed.
The study is published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.